Predator Free 2050: An Achievable Goal?

Predator Free 2050, is an expansive network of community led projects across New Zealand, with the goal of becoming predator free by the year 2050. Each region presents its unique challenges and advantages in becoming an area without predators. As a goal, it is admirable of New Zealand to strive for this, however, in practice it is unachievable.

Across the country, there are different opinions of the success of Predator Free, as an organisation and as a goal. Perspectives differ as to whether New Zealand will achieve the goal. Many have theorised if we simply have enough financial resources or an advancement in technology that the goal is possible, while others heavily disagree. Iwi are largely in favour of the project as it helps to underpin Kaitiakitanga, an important Māori value about the environment. In comparison, the chair of the Predator Free NZ Trust, argued the goal had “born in a leap of faith.”

New technologies are constantly being developed for pest control. Our current methods have had success in areas like Campbell and Kapiti Islands but limited success on the mainland. DOC is currently looking at various methods of innovation including; “The Cacophony Project and Long-life Lures.” The Cacophony Project looks at Artificial Intelligence in collection of data to track predators while monitoring native species. Tracking technology is becoming more advanced and is heavily regarded as viable technology. However, there is only a certain extent that tracking technology can advance and help in the elimination of predators alongside traditional pest control methods. The long-life lures are designed as an alternative to other bait products designed to kill predators. There has been no significant development in finishing this project and it is unknown whether this new technology is viable and even a better alternative than current technologies are at eliminating predators.

Current technologies like bait trapping, 1080 air drops and single kill traps, used in the eradication of pests have had successful rates of eradicating pests on the smaller islands of Aotearoa. However, these technologies do not yet have the capabilities or technical viability to be successful in overcoming the challenges of “pest refugia, compensatory immigration and reproduction,” on New Zealand’s larger islands. This is according to a paper published by enviromental scientist Wayne Linklater. “New Zealand’s main islands are each over 100 times larger,” than Australia’s Macquarie Island, currently regarded as the largest area in the world to be cleared of rats, as reported by The Atlantic. Therefore, with the current technologies used by Predator Free and their limitations the aspirational goal of Predator Free 2050 is unlikely to be achieved.

Scientists like Linklater believe that the hope of achieving Predator Free 2050, relies on technologies referred to as the “silver bullet,” which have been theorised but not yet developed or tested. These technologies are unlikely to be developed for a significant period of time because of the lack of resources and unknown technical viability. Without the miraculous development of such technology, there is a significant cost needed to be born to achieve the goal. A conservative estimate set at 32 billion is believed to be required to achieve Predator Free 2050, an amount that is unachievable with our current economic climate and G.D.P.

Ngāti Awa have become the first Iwi to led a project wholly designed with Predator Free intentions to have Māori at the forefront of the design making. However, The BioHeritage Challenge Bioethics Panel 2019, concluded that Māori, “remain limited in their ability to actively participate in decisions that impact on shared lands and natural resources within their tribal areas.” While most Iwi and Māori groups appear to support the work of Predator Free 2050, they are not included in fundamental decision making, which does not uphold the responsibilities of Te Tiriti o Waitangi as Māori are the historical guardians of New Zealand land and practice Kaitiakitanga; guardianship and protection over said land.

Many scientists have raised ethical concerns around the technologies and their technical viability used in the Predator Free 2050 efforts. Michael Morris’ thesis surrounds the ethics of pest control and Predator Free 2050. He cites the perspectives of hunting groups, animal rights organisations and other advocates in demonstrating those opposed to our current methods of pest eradication in service of the Predator Free 2050 goal. Hunting groups rightly have concerns not only for the unavoidable collateral damage of unintended victims like deer and pigs and in some cases the native birds themselves because of the lack of accuracy and technical viability with the current 1080 airdrop technologies. Claims which are heavily founded upon facts, for example the case of the 24 kea deaths between the years of 2008 and 2015 as a result of 1080 poisoning of a population of 199 observed by the Department of Conservation in radio tagging native species.

These groups also have concerns for the severe negative impact technologies like the 1080 air drops have on the ecosystem, in particular the leeching of the toxins into waterways. Animal rights groups and organisations, have concerns around 1080 and the intensity of the poison in killing both pests and innocent animals. Such groups are outspoken against the use of 1080 in pest control because of the “extreme suffering lasting days to weeks,” of those 1080 poisons.

Overall, Predator Free 2050 is an ambitious, aspirational goal that is unlikely to be achieved by 2050. However, the prevalence of the efforts of Predator Free have changed how we conduct pest control in New Zealand and given the public a heightened awareness about the importance of protecting our native taonga. Technologies used for the effort have a wide range of accuracy and are significantly limited in its impact on the larger islands. They are in significant need of development/advancement in combination with billions of dollars in financial resources to achieve the goal by the proposed date, which is near impossible under the current climate. Perspectives around Predator Free are important to consider when evaluating its response. Much more input is needed from Iwi and a greater level of concern for the ethics as raised by multiple different organisations, groups and a large amount of scientists.





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