Rejoice: a predator-free NZ is no longer a dream. Now, let’s talk about the money. And the cats

Gareth MorganEnvironment31 Comments

The government endorsement of a predator-free nation is cause for real cheer. But it’s only a start, writes Gareth Morgan.

The Government has formally endorsed a bold vision for a Predator Free New Zealand by 2050. They are investing $28m over four years into projects that will remove rats, stoats and possums from around a million hectares of land. The plan is to triple their spending by working in partnership with communities, Councils, the private sector and philanthropists.

Genesis

Predator Free New Zealand is not a new idea, but it has picked up steam in recent years. The Morgan Foundation first got involved following the Our Far South trip to the subantarctic islands and Antarctica, where we discovered that removing predators was the most cost effective thing we could do to help our threatened species. When we returned from that voyage we launched theMillion Dollar Mouse project, which aimed to get mice off the Antipodes Island.

When we returned from that voyage, Sir Paul Callaghan – who had wanted to participate in that voyage, was literally on his deathbed. He had mooted the idea of a predator free New Zealand in the last months of his life, referring to it as our version of putting someone on the moon. When he visited me in his final days in 2012 he implored me to provide some energy to the cause and get as many New Zealanders as possible in behind the goal.  That conversation led to the establishment of the Predator Free New Zealand Trust which has been focused on facilitating a grassroots, community-based national effort to give effect to Sir Paul’s vision. Today’s announcement is a terrific shot in the arm for turning that aspiration to reality.

New Zealand leads the world

It certainly is a massive challenge, but New Zealand leads the world in killing predators. We have shown over the past few decades that we can increase the area of predator eradications by a factor of ten each 10 years. The first eradication was the one-hectare Maria Island, accidentally cleared of rats by Forest and Bird volunteers in 1960. The last large eradication was in 2003 on Campbell Island (11,300 hectares).

Since then there has been a bit of a hiatus in predator eradications until the Million Dollar Mouse campaign. This, the latest in New Zealand’s legacy of predator eradication projects, was completed by a DOC-led team a few weeks ago. We now have to wait two years to see if the operation was successful, so fingers crossed.

Hopefully this new fund will support a pipeline of projects for our predator eradication specialists to work on in the future. Otherwise our talented specialists will once more disperse to work on eradications all over the world. This is not the only export to come out of our predator free goal; companies like Wellington’s Goodnature are also exporting their innovative self-resetting traps around the world.

Benefits

There are many other massive economic benefits here. Tourism is our No 1 export for starters, and nature is our main attraction. Our other exporters lean on the 100% Pure brand, and if we eliminated predators and restored our native biodiversity we might actually live up that promise. Of course predators like rats and possums cost our farmers and businesses $3.3b a year, so any solutions will benefit businesses here and around the world.

Is this announcement enough?

Of course, $28m will not make New Zealand Predator Free, nothing like it. For starters it is the usual Government trick of summing money over years – so this is $7m per year. No doubt a chunk of that will get tied up with administration rather than getting the job done.

But there is no need to be churlish; this money is a good start. Much like has been achieved with solar power and electric vehicles, we need to invest to show that the goal is doable, and to reduce the cost of achieving it. Hopefully this funding will kickstart the process; which is no doubt why the Government wants to see the fund deliver a number of scientific breakthroughs.

There are a lot of promising ideas out there. Hawkes Bay Regional Council is aiming to manage predators on farmland at a large scale. New traps are emerging to keep Goodnature on their toes.Zero Invasive Predators are using traps to create barriers for predators without the need for expensive fences. Otago University are looking at how gene editing technology might help a species breed itself to extinction. In working with the community of Crofton Downs we’ve shown that suburbs can be predator free just by getting one in five households trapping.

Of course, more government money will always help, but my point is that to achieve this we need all of New Zealand behind the vision. As a source of income long term I’ve suggested slapping an environmental levy on tourists to help pay for infrastructure, tracks, huts, even the search and rescue service they use when they get lost. Even $10 per tourist would generate $30m per year, which would be enough to control predators and over time eradicate them completely.

Of course, by exterminating all rats, stoats and possums, this will leave cats as the number one threat to our biodiversity. This will show up the glaring gap in the current approach: if we don’t prevent the wandering of cats in areas with native wildlife then all this will be for naught.

Gareth Morgan is a New Zealand economist and commentator, and a Predator Free NZ trustee.

Rejoice: a predator-free NZ is no longer a dream. Now, let’s talk about the money. And the cats was last modified: August 15th, 2016 by Gareth Morgan
About the Author

Gareth Morgan

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Gareth Morgan is a New Zealand economist and commentator on public policy who in previous lives has been in business as an economic consultant, funds manager, and professional company director. He is also a motorcycle adventurer and philanthropist. Gareth and his wife Joanne have a charitable foundation, the Morgan Foundation, which has three main stands of philanthropic endeavour – public interest research, conservation and social investment.

31 Comments on “Rejoice: a predator-free NZ is no longer a dream. Now, let’s talk about the money. And the cats”

  1. Is there any financial modelling for how much getting rid of all predators would cost? Do plans also include rabbits, hares etc too? Is there plans for how to eradicate? In sections of the country with pest proof fences in between to prevent recolonisation? Would be interested to read further.

    1. It’s depends on who’s analysis you read, but estimates out there are between $1-9bn. This project is around predators, rabbits deer etc would be considered a pest and non targeted species

      1. Do you have references for the estimates? Just keen to read further.
        I wonder about how much more it would cost to scale up for rabbits etc, from an economic standpoint. Whilst predators have massive impact on environment, the effect of rabbits on pasture must surely be significant, especially in Otago etc. Given a lot of environments would have infestations of multiple pests and predators, economies of scale (if methods for eradication are similar) may allow greater financial return for bigger goals, therefore decreasing the cost attributed to protecting our birdlife.

  2. Great start as Gareth said. This will also help with our climate change mitigation performance. What does the modelling estimate re carbon storage benefits for a 25%, 50% and 100% reduction in pests each year.

  3. I was surprised with the announcement, the government is not doing enough and have cut back on DOC funding in recent years. It is however a great goal to be predator free. I agree with you Gareth that we need to deal with the substantial cat problem as well. I would like to make my garden a cat free zone but have not found a way of keeping other people’s cat out. I would appreciate any suggestions.

    1. start trapping the cats – send them home with a message on the collar that if they are caught trespassing on you land again, that will be the last time they do it.
      And I don’t think we should be surprised at this announcement it looks very much like a drawing of attention away from the Housing Crisis

  4. I’m very concerned this just means tonnes and tonnes of 1080 dropped all over the country. If so that’s our water ways stuffed and our recreational hunting industry stuffed too.

    1. I am astonished that anyone who is opposed to something ignores facts. 1080 is very quickly degraded and broken down by water. Science.

      1. Very interesting about the water but not fully convincing …But it’s not only the streams that are of concern…The crowns of Kiekie an other Natives become drinking fountains for birds, if a pellet or two ends up in there what are the results…has it even been looked at…studied?
        I think a major concern for me is the impact on Deer. I understand that this is a positive impact for Forest and Bird but what about the hunters? Also surly there are more humane options?

        1. I live in Australia where our plants produce their own 1080 (sodium monofluoroacetate)
          The most humane option is a once off complete eradication of predators. The less humane option is culling predators year after year.

    2. I’m very concerned how introduced predators like trout and humans have decimated our native fish populations. Perhaps trout are known decimators, but what about whitebaiters where 4 or the 5 species of juvenile fish they net are endangered species, yet we let this plunder continue

  5. Frankly I feel its a worthy goal; however the first predator in my view that would need to go is the humans. Unless you carry out a major operation in big cities down to the smallest town and dump it just seems to me to be a political wish list. I am loath to make a self fulfilling philosophy, but in my view the horse has well n truly bolted.
    Re cats I was bemused at the talkback myths back when Gareth went out in my view correctly stating they all had to go, i think. Folk claiming their cat never wandered was well fed therefore did not need extra food …. theyre hardwired, if it moves they will try catching it ….. sighzz.

    Re the video re 1080 safety in water. Remember 245 t? remember when over 50 years ago cigarettes were advised for stress? theres so many things that once were deemed safe that years later the advice is quite different; so i wonder, does anybody really know.? Remember when glyphosate was the miracle weed killer, now its getting banned globally … just saying MM

    1. Using example like you have is interesting. Cigarets etc were just thrown into the market, only latter the found out they are bad. We know these things are dangerous now thanks to the scientific method. 1080 has been researched to such an extent that if it was going to kill us, we would know by now.

      1. It is interesting Gareth that your science tells a different story to that which comes from the Poison Manufacturer, Tull Chemicals. Their explicit instructions printed on their distribution bags demands that it be kept clear of any and all water ways. Bury any animal killed with 1080 Poison. This along with other instructions. I guess you will tell us that your scientists know more than those in the US. Hmmmm now who to believe.

    2. Yes, those other things you mentioned have latterly been found to be a problem, no question. However, regarding 2,4,5-T, there was a huge political (near to corruption) drive from government officials to push this as the wonder chemical against gorse and broom. Some of you may remember many years ago, one Max Collins (Director of Public Health) telling us 2,4,5-T is perfectly safe and that he would happily drink it (provided it ‘was properly boiled’). Scientific attitudes and bureaucratic sense of responsibility have improved somewhat since then and we should remember that 2,4,5-T was contemporary with thalidamide. There was a huge battle to uncover the very real hazards of this drug. Remember too, there was no Official Information Act back then (it was aptly called the Official Secrets Act). Things were a lot more covered up. The rural constituency had almost total sway over government policy back then and the older ones among us might remember nearly colliding with flocks of sheep or cattle on state highways (with no forewarning) and any motorist who collided with them would be liable for damages to the farmer. Things have thankfully changed!

      1080 (or its natural form Sodium fluoroacetate) occurs in many plants, including Camellia sinensis (which we know as tea), so avid tea drinkers imbibe a level of 1080. It won’t affect them, though, because it is readily excreted from the body. It also breaks down in water and soil, but can remain in the bones of poisoned animals for some time. This is the hazard. Some native birds, like kea and weka that scavenge dead animals, could be at risk and the jury is out on this.

      I agree about glyphosate. It was known since the early 80s that it remains for a long time in the blood stream and nobody really knew what the effects were of its presence. The policy at the time was to accept it as an unknown but necessary evil. Nor does soil denature it. Clay micelles merely lock it up, but changes in soil chemistry could release it.

      However, I’m interested in your urban focus for predator control and I agree with you, but maybe not for the same reasons. This is where the greatest bang for the advocacy buck lies as this is where most of us live and can appreciate and advocate for themselves any positive changes that ensue.

  6. Surely the rabbits do need to be considered. Mustelids keep some sort of balance, but if they’re wiped out we’re looking at a population explosion.

    1. I don’t think mustelids have any sort of viable role in rabbit control, whereas, if we were to eliminate stoats, ferrets and, above all, feral cats, then we might end up having a viable falcon population to carry out this task. They are effective hunters of rodents and rabbits, as well as introduced pest birds. Now that is a thought. Instead of shooting falcons (in our strange cultural bias against birds of prey) we could enhance their populations and protect them to work for us, as is happening in the Marlborough vineyards. This is the kind of thinking-ouside-the-square that we need if the cash-starved objective of a predator-free NZ is ever to be achieved. Mustelids turned away from rabbits and to easier pickings in our naive native birds. Their introduction was an unmitigated disaster and the reason for doing so was to control rabbits.

  7. Great work ….. really enjoying and joyfully reading this dialogue. Pest eradication and water quality have long been topics close to heart. As i get close to retirement i will be looking of ways to assist and be involved. It will take a collective effort and there are many that need educating on this massive challenge. Go for it Aoteaora/NZ. We love a good challenge and science is making inroads every day.

  8. I would like to be a piece of this puzzle but not sure where I could fit in, as an experienced trapper located on the West Coast. It’s easy enough to catch possums and the odd rat, seems a shame not to be setting up stoat lines and cat traps at the same time, but it does not covers its costs without support. Interesting new technoloy around, I’m still back in the raised set, Victor 1 inch leg-hold trap era for possums and DOC 200 traps for stoats. Look forward to knowing more about the project and if community groups will take on more projects in the mountains near here to consolidate work already undertaken. It would be good to see some more work along the middle section of Te Araroa and engagement with this group of back country visitors, some may choose to support the cause.

    1. The Victor leg hold traps are illegal for use other than trap catch index surveys, where the possums can be humanely killed when found the next day. As for DOC 200 traps, try lugging a few of them into the more remote and inaccessible places and see how popular they’ll be. Then both traps have to be checked regularly and will only work once until reset – no good for extremely remote backcountry areas. Very promising alternatives are the Good Nature A12 and A24 traps as they are lightweight, small and self-setting for 12 and 24 trappings respectively. They have been found to locally eliminate some predators. The big downside (and it’s a biggie) is that they are $80-100 each to buy. This will put many people off. The real advances will come from new science regarding predator habits and lures as well as possible sterilising gene modification.

      1. As I understand the law, Victor 1 1/2 traps are banned, but Victor 1 is ok with DOC permit and with restrictions. If I am wrong please, can I have a link to the source or to the Order in Council under Section 32 of the Animal Welfare Act. or National Animal Welfare Advisory Committee notification. I agree with your comments on the DOC 200. There is a growing number of traps out there, with volunteers and paid contractors checking them . I would love to try some of the new technology under a community group intiative.

  9. I just had a horrible/lovely thought

    Autonomous drones electrocuting predators (they could do rabbits and deer as well)
    Small solar powered autonomous drones that perch until batteries are full then flit about looking for rats/stoats to zap!

  10. John Key said that pests cost us 3billion a year un yet hes only stumping up 7 million a year. Seems to be another case of great marketing not much else. I dont know what figure represents just know that 7,000000 a year to fix a $3300,000,000 loss is not smart economics. We are not 100% pure. Maybe you think we are a 100% stupid John????

  11. Let’s hope this is more than the government’s standard smoke and mirrors. Politicians love setting long term goals knowing they generally have short term power. To really work it needs to include all predator species too.

  12. Act Party suggest sale of Land or to finance conservation projects predator free seems to fit the idea well why not ask them to make it policy, even small patties can be very influential after Elections

  13. I agree whole-heartedly and I have had threats and abuse on the Cats to Go blog from the pro-cat brigade. There are political populists like Richard Prosser (and Peter Dunne before him) who have thrown the cat among the pigeons (sorry for the unfortunate pun) by suggesting (correctly) that removing one suite of predators will upset a delicate predator-prey balance and possibly worsen the problem. However, he argued (incorrectly) that native wildlife and introduced mammals have happily coexisted for nigh on 200 years and ‘we still have birds’. This ties in with the daft views of the anti-1080 lobby whose so called scientific authority, Jim Hilton, argues rodents have been here for thousands of years and do no harm to New Zealand’s indigenous wildlife. From the time of the 1964 decimation of Big South Cape Island by ship rats, and the known extinction of three native species as a result, this inane view has been shown to be tragically false.

    In a recent cutting article by freelance science writer, Dave hansford, this topic was explored dispassionately and a whole suite of additional and nearly as problematic mammalian pests and predators was discussed and the vested-interest objections by pet owners and hunters were outlined. His conclusion was bleak and he declared that the necessary buy-in from the public for a predator-free New Zealand would not be forthcoming.

    In one of John Key’s typical photo-opportunities, he was recorded on national television as saying ‘Cuddles [his cat] is safe’. This might be one of his innocent and naive remarks, but I don’t think Key is ever naive and his political radar is always well pointed. His utterance sends a wider message that cats, at least, are off the predator-free agenda.

    Now before anyone rushes to call me a cat hater, I will disclose that we have two cats in this household: an elderly white cat and a tabby kitten. The kitten will be neutered when she is old enough (at some expense and that is another matter in addressing the problem). I personally was not going to have another cat after the old fella dies, but we have a girl and try, as a parent, standing up to kids’ pleas to have a kitten. Furthermore, keeping cats in at night only prevents them from preying on ground-roosting birds or nocturnal animals (and limits their ability to hunt rodents). They have a lot of diurnal creatures to hunt during the day, including most of our birds and skinks.

    This brings me to the real chicken and egg. As one who frequently stays at Bushy Park (near Whanganui), I can say what an experience it is to enjoy a real dawn chorus and frequent birdsong of species seldom encountered in any urban setting: tieke, toutouwai, karearea, kereru in abundance, as well as tui and bellbird in abundance. Hihi has now established well in Bushy Park and is frequently seen and heard. It is as much fun watching the faces of delight from the kids who have little toutouwai land on their feet and shoulders as it is to see and hear the birds themselves. Bushy Park is a near predator-free sanctuary, and similar experiences can be enjoyed in urban sanctuaries like Zealandia and very soon Brook-Waimarama. In those few places near bush reserves and which have a no-pets policy, it is possible to enjoy kiwi wandering through ones backyard as we might enjoy hedgehogs in our urban areas. In a few places there are weka that insinuate themselves into human families (still completely wild) and share a meal with family pets (even, in one case, kittens). I personally witnessed and photographed this kind of interaction at Berlins in the Buller Gorge. I first encountered the same weka boldly striding among the tables and chairs of the lounge bar at the pub there.

    The chicken and egg is this: if we are ever to have these kinds of experiences in our towns and cities we need to make them safe for our vulnerable fauna and do much more to foster their habitat and food sources. Sadly, this means ultimately banning cats from many areas and carrying out comprehensive and widescale predator control of a whole number of other species. If we were to do this we would have many more eggs and chicks – of species that are real characters to have in our towns and cities, like kaka, toutouwai and even tieke. These might become our defacto pets of the future and we might come to understand and care for them as we do our cats and dogs today. They would still be wild but would again come to show that bold and fearless nature that is a famous part of our native birds’ character. This might help ease the emptiness we might feel in not being allowed to have a cat or dog. Imagine long term (and I do mean long-term!) having pet (yet wild) kakapo, as well as kaka. It would seem that our native parrots show the same proclivity in interacting with us that cats do and, as someone who actually had a kea as a pet in the 1960s, I can vouch for their considerable intelligence and character, for more so than any cat. It is worth pointing out that my kea was never caged and sometimes made a nuisance of himself by vandalising the mirror toys in any car where the windows were down.

    Native birds as free-ranging and still wild pets may be a long-sighted ambition, but as many commentators and scientists (notably Rob Fenwick) have pointed out, it would be the realistic outcome of New Zealand being free of mammalian predators (ALL of them). However, everyone will need to be extremely patient and realise that it might take many generations, new technologies and a steely determination to achieve it. What would help enormously in the buy-in needed would be for an incremental achievement of a predator-free status in certain key areas and it looks like Nelson and possibly Wellington might be the first major urban areas to achieve it. It is worth noting that both these cities are the only ones that have fenced predator-free sanctuaries and therein lies the clue to what can happen. Although they are expensive to implement, predator-free sanctuaries can show urban dwellers just what is possible for our biodiversity and can allow many more people to partake in the experience. They are the only realistic interim solution that I can think of, enough to encourage people to do their bit and start implementing comprehensive predator control programmes in their own areas. Ark in the Park is not the success hoped for, despite trumpeting from conservationists. There are still too many predators and some of the worst are roaming and breeding domestic cats that become feral in the same generation. As rat control agents cats are a failure because the numbers they control are a fraction of what is needed to encourage breeding and halt the decline of many vulnerable species of nature bird.

  14. Have had this discussion for nearly three years now and no-one has taken it up. Cats do not need to roam any more than dogs do – they are more than content to be housed when they is all they know. We have three cats who have free run of the inside of our house and the veranda which we have enclosed with cat netting (same product as used for indoor sports netting. There are several companies in both New Zealand and Australia who sell for DIY or will do installation and advise on design etc. Here is a photo of the veranda with the netting – all installed by myself in two days very easy and only $NZ 250. No worries about getting into territory cat fights, worries about getting hit by cars – and no worries about native birds being gifted to us. Oh and we do put rat bait down under the house and under hutches to stop that population growing. Here is the website of the company I purchased the netting from http://www.catnets.co.nz/

  15. Hi…we are Rural and constantly battle pests…I woyld love to do more but cost is an issue as we have to buy ratbait at over a hundred dollars a bucket…if this could be free or at least subsidised…we would be more active. And to illustrate what ferrocious preditors ferrel cats are…we had one killing our piglets! Also a friend had one climbing his trees and killing his chooks….both met a sticky end!

  16. If you haven’t already seen it, we (the Cacophony Project) already have some promising results from using artificial pest lures, without dropping poison bait anywhere… we believe an 80,000 times improvement in pest eradication is possible – see https://cacophony.org.nz/eradicate-predators-80000x-more-effectively and our subsequent blog posts for more info and open data results. We’re keen to work with others – this is a fully open source project!

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