Exciting times in the world of New Zealand conservation!
Yesterday (coincidentally, the very day after I posted on the state of native birds and their struggles with introduced predators),the New Zealand government unveiled their plan for Predator Free NZ. This is a brand-new and broad-sweeping initiative for predator removal, and it’s been making news since its announcement yesterday.
Basically: the Predator Free NZ initiative is the Government’s pledge to completely remove all mammalian predators in New Zealand by 2050. $28 million of public sector funds are being put to to the pledge, with the hopes that this money will be increased by substantial private sector donations. The money is allocated using a 1-for-2 scheme, meaning that for every $2 a local government or private organization uses for predator removal, the government will contribute $1. A new Crown entity, Predator Free New Zealand Limited, has been instated to organize community collaborations, allocate the funds, and encourage more private-sector donations.
This is a huge undertaking, described as the “most ambitious conservation project attempted anywhere in the world”. When trying to impress this enormity, certain numbers come up again and again: 30 million possums in the country. 25 million native birds killed by pests each year. 13.3 billion dollars of direct economic costs to the primary sector as the result of pests. 27 million hectares of land to be cleared before New Zealand, as a whole, is predator-free. The initiative is remarkable for its scale.
It’s also a bit surprising. The National Party, which is currently the ruling party of New Zealand government, is emphatically not known for making big strides on conservation issues. As a result, it’s been met with a fair bit of criticism. Opponents point to recent reductions in the budget of the Department of Conservation (most recently was a reduction of $40 million in the DoC budget between 2015 and 2016) and wonder why conservation funds are being funneled into a new program rather than sustaining the existing agency. Others note that the total cost of predator eradication has been estimated at $9 billion, and scoff at the $28 million government pledge. Can that sort of program really be sustainable in the long term, they ask, or is this just a public opinion boost for National? Still others are concerned about the ecological impacts of predator removal, worrying that increased use of 1080, predator fencing, and traplines will have unanticipated repercussions on already-stressed ecosystems. And, of course, some opponents find the project entirely impossible and cite the many times throughout history that eradication of an introduced species has completely dive-bombed.
It’s a bit of a tangled issue, and it only becomes more tangled as more information is revealed throughout the week (midterm goals, major philanthropists that have provided support, reactions from DoC…). Still, many of the opinions I’ve heard have been measured but positive— and from my point of view, it’s exciting to have a conservation issue that’s creating so much conversation.
Until next time,