Jamie Steer

Dr Jamie Steer is interested in exploring and challenging current attitudes to biodiversity and conservation in New Zealand. He is particularly keen on spotlighting the assumptions behind our understandings of acceptable and unacceptable wildlife, and considering how these might come to change.

From Restoration to Reconciliation: Belief 8 – Our ecosystems are going to collapse - So Shoot Me

Dec 21, 2018

Here are more comments from my interview with Kim Hill: ‘…each species we lose puts the entire ecosystem at risk of collapse’  ‘Without the species that are adapted to these native environments a whole ecosystem will eventually collapse’ Some people say that our ecosystems are going to collapse under the weight of introductions, that our ecosystems are essentially going to die. This is something that we’ve heard for many years now, particularly in the context of forest ecosystems; that they will surely collapse at some point in the near future and we’ll have deserts or something like savannas presumably. As the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment recently wrote: ‘…possums, rats and stoats … are bent on destroying our native forests…we cannot allow our forests to die’ (Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, 2011) It’s pretty scary stuff. But it really … Read More

From Restoration to Reconciliation: Belief 7 – We’re going to end up with a monoculture - So Shoot Me

Dec 20, 2018

Here are more comments from my interview with Kim Hill: ‘…we do not have to accept a future that sees our ecosystems as homogeneous with everything else, comprised of international tramp species and the few natives that can persist with them’ ‘…there’s a tonne of [introduced] plants out there that if we let go they’ll change landscapes and there’ll be nothing. I mean we’re talking monospecies…’ People are terrified that we are going to end up with a small number of cosmopolitan species (low diversity); that we’re just going to end up with rats, zebra mussels, brown tree snakes; that we’re going to lose our local and regional distinctiveness; and that introductions are ultimately going to be responsible for this diminution. Well, maybe. But in New Zealand what we can say is that we have introduced tens of thousands … Read More

From Restoration to Reconciliation: Belief 6 – Science: Tell us what to do - So Shoot Me

Dec 19, 2018

Many people have this idea that we just need to trust the scientists on this one. Science will tell us what to value so we should just leave it to them. Here are some comments again from my interview with Kim Hill: ‘This is not a cultural judgment about the value of different species but is a scientific one’ ‘Conservation science is a value framework?! Ummm – how about the ‘value’ of biodiversity and all the benefits that KEEPS US ALIVE on the planet’ ‘It’s not about values!!! It’s science’ But it’s important to remember that scientists also told us what to do during the acclimatisation era as well. We’ll recall that most of the acclimatisation societies around the country included scientists among their foremost members who were great advocates for introducing new species to New Zealand. At the … Read More

From Restoration to Reconciliation: Belief 5 – Keep going we’re almost there - So Shoot Me

Dec 18, 2018

We still very often retain this belief that we can put the bits of our fallen humpty dumpty back together again; that we can restore what we’ve lost. Nature, in this respect, is still often presented as this relatively static puzzle that is waiting for us to make it whole again. Unfortunately what the science of the last 30 or 40 years has shown is that on most levels ecosystems can’t really be restored – they are unrepeatable. More often than not we don’t even know how our ecosystems work exactly today anyway, let alone how they worked in the past. We do know that 95% of our species richness in New Zealand consists of invertebrates, but probably at least half of those species we’re yet to even classify, much less figure out how they contribute to their ecosystems. Read More

From Restoration to Reconciliation: Belief 4 – We need to restore the balance - So Shoot Me

Dec 17, 2018

This is the idea that people have upset the balance or equilibrium of nature, but that we can return that balance in future if appropriate steps are taken. This belief is very much supported in New Zealand by this notion that our environment is Gondwanan and that it hasn’t changed much in the last 80 million years. Or if it has changed, it’s changed only very slowly and incrementally. This notion of balance again came through very strongly during my PhD research and was commonly reflected in peoples’ attitudes towards introduced wildlife. And that’s a little surprising because the idea of balance or equilibrium fell out of favour in the ecological literature as early as the 1970-80s. Yet it’s remained extremely popular both among the public and even still among many scientists. That’s partly because the myth that there … Read More

From Restoration to Reconciliation: Belief 3 – It’s a war! - So Shoot Me

Dec 16, 2018

We often frame our relationship with introduced species in New Zealand this way – as a war, a fight, a battle. And there are plenty of examples of it, most recently in the Department of Conservation’s ‘War on Weeds’ or its ‘Battle for our Birds’. War metaphors feature prominently in both popular and scientific literatures in New Zealand. They set up the notion that introduced species are fighting against us and deliberately contradicting our interests. They also construct the idea that native species are in an alliance with us, which is, rather curiously, the opposite construction to that of colonial New Zealanders. I’ve got a number of problems with our use of war metaphors in relation to introduced wildlife (also see here). Inaccurate The first one is that it’s just fundamentally inaccurate. The framing of war … Read More

From Restoration to Reconciliation: Belief 2 – Natives define us - So Shoot Me

Dec 15, 2018

‘It’s hard to swallow giving up ur Godzone…’  (Feedback on Kim Hill interview). We have this idea in NZ that our national identity, at least when it comes to wildlife, is defined almost solely by our native species. Sure, we accept cows and kiwifruit and so on when in farmed or horticultural settings, but with the notable exception of introduced game species (which are another story), we don’t generally have much time for the non-native in our wildlife – certainly not in the conservation estate. But what I would venture is that that way of framing our identity is very much just a current choice that we make. It’s not a fact. And it’s a choice that we can change as well, remembering that in the mid-1800s in New Zealand colonial New Zealanders defined themselves largely by introduced species. Read More

From Restoration to Reconciliation: Belief 1 – They don’t belong here! - So Shoot Me

Dec 14, 2018

OK, Number 1 – the first belief for us to look at: that they don’t belong here. With ‘they’ of course being introduced species. Here are a couple of quotes from the feedback to my Kim Hill interview to lead us into this one. ‘We should round up all possums that have eaten more than a certain amount of native vegetation on an offshore island then send them back to Australia’ ‘The Creator set everything in its place for the good of mankind. Why are we so arrogant, to think we are greater than He, to disregard His will?’ The first one, somewhat ironically, suggests that we treat possums in the same way that Australians treat their asylum seekers. And the second one, even more interestingly, replicates the essence almost exactly of an article that appeared in the Auckland … Read More

From Restoration to Reconciliation: Feedback from Kim Hill interview - So Shoot Me

Dec 13, 2018

Recently I’ve been doing a little popular writing relating to my research here and there. And one of these articles happened to get the attention of Radio New Zealand interviewer Kim Hill who invited me onto her show for a chat (read: interrogation). It turned out to be a really fruitful experience, and you can still listen to it online if you like. It generated a tonne of feedback and helped to set up a whole lot of really useful connections for me. And I just want to use some of the public feedback from that interview now as a sort of lead in to what I want to talk to you about. Here’s a sample of some of the more positive feedback sent through to Kim: ‘Hi Kim, everything your guest said about respect for all living … Read More

From Restoration to Reconciliation: Why sustaining NZ’s biodiversity means moving forward, not backward - So Shoot Me

Dec 12, 2018

Over the next couple of weeks I’m going to be posting a new article each day. Each article will be supported by a short video clip providing much the same content, so you can either read this blog or just watch the clip. This first one’s a little longer but most of the clips will be about 5 minutes long (the perfect tea break I heard you say). These articles are going to lead readers through a presentation I was invited to give to the Ministry for the Environment and the Ministry for Primary Industries in October 2016, and a similar, expanded lecture I gave to a restoration ecology class at Victoria University in April last year (where the video comes from). This presentation offers some reflections on my PhD research in Environmental Science. But don’t let that … Read More