One of the leaders of the Predator-Free movement, Sir Rob Fenwick (Chair of the Predator Free New Zealand Trust and a Director of Predator-Free 2050), described Predator-Free 2050 as a “project born in a leap of faith” (Dominion Post). He appears to think the predator-free goal is more like a religion than a science-based conservation project. And, his religion is going to war.
The religious war against pests
Just like a war for his religious belief, Sir Fenwick described his ‘believers’ as “the unsung heroes of this crusade” and an “army of volunteers” and the importance for the future of “helping to attract young people to the campaign.”
He goes on: “It’s pretty obvious we won’t win this battle killing rats and stoats one at a time. There are millions of them and while aerial drops of 1080 are crucially important, we’ll need some new weapons. Crusades spur innovations.” And lets not forget the “battle with possums”.
Its not the first time Sir Fenwick has talked about Predator-Free as if it is a religious war against pests. He has describes it as a “call to arms“, “fight back“, “multi-year mission” and “campaign” by an “army of volunteers” “winning this battle“, with “weapons” on the National Science Challenge – Biological Heritage website.
Sir Rob Fenwick’s religious and warlike rhetoric is revealing. It is also not an isolated case. Conservationists, even its government ministries, routinely describe their beliefs and projects religiously and their work as a war, like the “Battle for our Birds” and “War on Weeds” programmes out of the Department of Conservation. My colleague, Dr. Jamie Steer, has pointed this out in some detail before in an article also worth reading.
Just harmless, popularist words?
But isn’t Sir Fenwick’s choice of words just harmless, populist rhetoric? Why should it concern us?
I think we should be concerned about this populist rhetoric because it is evidence that the Predator Free by 2050 goal:
- is irrational and not the deeply science-based policy that biodiversity conservation requires to be successful, and
- imposes a reputational risk to the conservation movement in New Zealand and its governance (e.g., to the Department of Conservation).
I will develop each of these ideas in subsequent posts.