By Eric Crampton 08/06/2017

There’s an important recommendation missing from the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment’s list of things to help endangered birds. It hardly would work for all birds, but it is ridiculous that it is banned for those birds for which it would work.

Let people farm them.

Roger Beattie has demonstrated that he can successfully raise weka. There would be ample speciality markets for the birds. But DoC seems to consider him a menace rather than a saviour for those birds. He made the case well on the tag accompanying his Weka Woo hats.

I did like that PCE recommended considering GE modified predators as a way of helping. They write:

The nature of research is that there are no guarantees of success in the laboratory, let alone practical application in the real world. One approach may be very effective, but would face many hurdles in becoming registered for use; another may be the opposite. It is important that all options be kept open, and that research money is not prematurely funnelled into one area.

Approaches that rely on some kind of genetic modification are likely to encounter strong opposition from some. But the use of genetic science does not necessarily involve modifying genomes. Nor does the use of genetic modification necessarily involve transferring genes from one species to another.

Some techniques, like the Trojan female and gene drive, once introduced, will spread through predator populations by themselves. This attribute will make such techniques very cost-effective, but is likely to create public concern.

Informed and early public discussion about different methods for using genetic science for predator control will be essential. Such discussion should not only cover the risks associated with such methods but also the promise they hold – the widespread control and potential eradication of the predators that are killing many millions of birds and other native wildlife every year. The Royal Society of New Zealand has set up a panel of experts on gene editing.

I recommend that the Minister for the Environment, the Minister of Conservation, and the Minister of Science and Innovation direct officials to begin developing a programme of staged engagement with the general public on the potential uses of genetic techniques to control predators.

I also strongly support their recommendation to better levy visitors to the conservation estate for conservation services provided. It is absurd that there is not an access charge, with a relatively low fee for domestic visitors and a relatively high fee for foreign visitors. Access to Canada’s National Parks requires purchase of a parks pass, and it is easy to charge foreign visitors more.

Those things that can be funded through user fees should be, and if your worry is you might limit access to those on lower incomes, remember that it’s a mistake to try to solve an incomes problem by screwing up relative prices.