Predator Free 2050 is good politics but it is scientifically flawed.
It can’t be done. Predator-free 2050 was described as a “moon shot” but, actually, its an Andromeda Galaxy shot – unattainable. New Zealand’s, and the world’s, leading experts in animal eradication have already concluded that it is not possible to eradicate introduced mammalian predators from New Zealand. That consensus of expert opinion has been ignored.
PF2050 and the Department of Conservation (DOC) guiding it are under resourced. Its estimated cost is $32 billion but just a thousandth of that number has been set aside ($26 million).
The success of PF 2050 rests entirely on complicated solutions that are largely unknown, undeveloped and untested, like the genetic manipulation of wildlife. Those solutions have enormous technical and biological uncertainties to their use. The chances of actually being able to apply one of those solutions is next to zero.
Even if they could be made to work in the laboratory, the genetic manipulations of wildlife being proposed, like gene drive and Trojan females, will not eradicate predators because they attempt to work against biological evolution. The predator populations are genetically variable and they will mutate, there will be survivors, and they will repopulate. The first examples of gene drive failing because of genetic resistance has already been published.
On top of the uncertainties about the development and efficacy of new technologies, there are also large risks and barriers to scaling up existing technologies or releasing new ones. For example, while aerial broadcasting 1080 is understood to be necessary for the moment, it is also understood to pose a risk in our export markets because consumers are sensitive to inhumane practices and environmental toxins. The increase in 1080 broadcasting that PF2050 will require poses an ongoing political and economic risk.
Another example: the New Zealand public and international consumers of our produce are already wary of genetically modified organisms. Even the scientists at the forefront of developing gene-drive techniques are warning about their potential social and ecological risks. It is highly likely that a significant number of the public are going to find the release of genetically engineered organism into their backyards and schools unacceptable. These types of uncertainties and risks are greater than the technological and biological ones.
Ordinarily, no government, NGO, corporate or business would pose a goal that is not within it capacity to achieve. They would especially not pose such a high-risk strategy and then under-resource it. And for conservation the prospect of failure carries with it the potential to sacrifice public support for its broader goals.
Consider also that PF2050 is much less useful to biodiversity than we are led to believe. It is a single issue-single solution approach to biodiversity loss when it is, of course, more complicated. Predator eradication will improve the prospects for the few of our endemic and charismatic biodiversity (e.g., birds and reptiles) but not address the decline in the vast majority of New Zealand’s biodiversity that continues to be impacted by poor environmental standards and enforcement and ongoing habitat loss and pollution across most of the country. Moreover, ecological science has taught us that removing species will create new, and there will be additional, threats – competitors, other predators, parasites and diseases. Thus, PF2050 is not the best way to protect New Zealand’s environment and biodiversity over its greatest extent. PF 2050 is a political distraction from solving the greater environmental problems that we face as a country.
Given the above points, it becomes clear that PF2050 is a “green-wash” by the current government while it has worked to erode environmental and biodiversity protections everywhere else.
Fortunately, there is a better alternative to Predator Free 2050 that is based on better science and policy developed over the last 50 years. I describe that in my next post.