The New Zealand Government has just unveiled ‘the world’s most ambitious conservation project’: eliminating introduced predators such as rats, possums and stoats by 2050. But is it a realistic goal?
The Prime Minister John Key announced the target yesterday , starting off with with a new $28 million joint venture, Predator Free New Zealand Limited, which will sponsor community partnerships and pest eradication efforts around the country.
“This is the most ambitious conservation project attempted anywhere in the world, but we believe if we all work together as a country we can achieve it,” said Key.
“New Zealand is a world leader in conservation technology and research,” Science and Innovation Minister Steven Joyce says. “The Biological Heritage Challenge has an established network of scientists who are ready and willing to take on the Predator Free Challenge. For the first time technology is starting to make feasible what previously seemed like an unattainable dream.”
Predator Free New Zealand Limited will have a board of directors made up of government, private sector, and scientific players. The board’s job will be to work on each regional project with iwi and community conservation groups and attract $2 of private sector and local government funding for every $1 of government funding.
Four goals for 2025 have been set for the project:
-An additional 1 million hectares of land where pests have been suppressed or removed through Predator Free New Zealand partnerships
-Development of a scientific breakthrough capable of removing at least one small mammalian predator from New Zealand entirely
-Demonstrate areas of more than 20,000 hectares can be predator free without the use of fences
-Complete removal of all introduced predators from offshore island nature reserves
‘A reasonable goal’
The response from New Zealand conservation scientists has been one of cautious optimism. Here is a snapshot of the expert reaction collected by the Science Media Centre:
Dr James Russell, conservation biologist, University of Auckland:
“We’ve been part-way there for some time. Already nearly half our offshore islands are free of introduced mammalian predators, but these are only the smaller islands (10% of total area). It has taken us 50 years to arrive here, so 2050 seems a reasonable goal and matches our current scaling laws for eradication size.”
Doug Armstrong, Professor of Conservation Biology, Massey University:
“The goals seem good, including the general goal of eradicating rats, stoats and possums by 2050, but it is impossible to say whether this general goal is realistic at this stage. It is clearly feasible to eradicate these species from Stewart Island if there was sufficient public support to do this.”
Dr Marie Brown, Senior Policy Analyst, Environmental Defence Society:
“This goal is pretty aspirational of course – but vision and audacity is a good thing in conservation. It engages people and makes the impossible possible. Much of what we achieved in conservation in the latter half of the twentieth century would have been inconceivable in the first.”
Dr Wayne Linklater, co-director Centre for Biodiversity and Restoration Ecology, Victoria University Wellington:
“There is evidence … that the political and logistical approach – marrying government, business and philanthropy – might be timely and powerful enough to achieve it.”
The price of predator free
Commenting on the total cost of reaching the Predator Free 2050 target, Dr Russell said:
“Without a clear idea of what the final knowledge advances are which will help us achieve Predator Free New Zealand, its hard to make a reliable costing, but certainly it will require a prolonged investment staged across multiple governments, but with the right economic model, the annual costs could be only a fraction of a percent of GDP.”
An analysis by Dr Russell and colleagues, published in the journal Bioscience earlier this year, gave a rough estimate of $9 billion for scaling up predator eradication efforts to a national level over 50 years, acknowledging the difficulties in costing out the scenario.
What about cats?
The definition of predator in the context of the 2050 goal does have a little wriggle room when it comes to domestic pets. When asked about the status of cats in the ambitious plan, Prime Minster John Key told the New Zealand Herald:
“Moonbeam [the Key family cat] is safe as a house. If you’re asking about feral cats on the DoC estate, their time is limited.
“They will be targeted. But in terms of the domestic moggie, then they’ll still have plenty of years in front of the fire.”
Featured image: Flickr / G =]