Predator Free 2050 strategy – Expert Reaction

The Department of Conservation has released a strategy to reach Predator Free 2050, along with an action plan through to 2025.

The predator-free goal focuses on three groups of mammals: possums, three species of rats, plus stoats, ferrets and weasels.

Interim 2025 goals include all mammalian predators eradicated from uninhabited offshore islands, development of a breakthrough science solution to eradicate one small mammal predator from the mainland, and possums or mustelids eradicated from at least one New Zealand city.

The SMC asked experts to comment on the strategy.

Dr Brendon Blue, Research Fellow, School of Environment and George Mason Centre for the Natural Environment, University of Auckland, comments:

“Predator Free 2050 offers an important reminder that environmental and social challenges must be addressed together.

“Environmental protection is not just a problem for the conservation estate. The urban and agricultural settings most of us live and work in can potentially support substantial biodiversity, and it is important to care for these easily forgotten habitats both on land and in our waterways.

“As Predator Free 2050 brings conservation efforts into New Zealanders’ backyards, success will depend on the public not just accepting predator control but actively participating in it.

“Some communities have been carrying out trapping and poisoning for a long time, but it is important that we find ways to understand and support those who are less inclined or able to get involved. This is a significant challenge. It requires a willingness to build trust by genuinely listening to people’s values, questions and concerns, rather than using psychological tricks to persuade them to care.

“For example, killing predators is unlikely to be a high priority for the substantial numbers of New Zealanders who are living below the poverty line. It also might not make sense for renters to invest time, energy and money protecting a property they can be kicked out of in as little as 42 days. We would not expect tenants to plant an avocado tree hoping it will produce brunch in 10 years, so what makes us think they should be committed to predator control over the next 30?

“There are signs that the Department of Conservation recognises this challenge. The Predator Free 2050 Strategy acknowledges the importance of connections between people and places, and outlines a commitment to local and Māori leadership. Like many other environmental issues, though, making Aotearoa predator free by 2050 is likely to require a broader commitment to addressing structural social inequalities.”

No conflict of interest.

Professor Lisa Ellis, Professor of Philosophy and Politics, University of Otago, comments:

“The recently released Predator Free 2050 Strategy and five-year Action Plan are right that collaboration at an unprecedented level will be required to ‘return the voices’ of our native species to the land. The explosion of local effort around predator suppression since Predator Free 2050 was announced inspires optimism that it is possible to bring people together and that they will have the energy and staying power to make a difference.

“However, any successful mass mobilisation effort will have to include frank talk: about the sheer scale of the challenge, about the real costs of failure but also of success, and about how life in Aotearoa New Zealand will change as Predator Free 2050 progresses.

“National-scale predator eradication promises everyday benefits, like kākā on your back deck, but it will require real changes in people’s behaviour, like coordinating land management with your neighbours, foregoing some development in favour of habitat restoration, and accepting that we cannot preserve our endemic species while rejecting the most promising new technology in pest management: gene editing.

“While the Strategy and Action Plan correctly include ambitious investment, sustained collaboration, iterative planning, and technological innovation as essential elements of Predator Free 2050, nowhere do they acknowledge the facts that:

  1. under current technology, achieving the Predator Free 2050 goals would not only be unlikely to succeed but also extremely expensive, costing us a significant proportion of our national budget, and
  2. of all technologies on the horizon today, only gene editing offers the prospect of potentially affordable and effective eradication, and finally
  3. without attention to other drivers of extinction such as habitat loss, the ultimate goal of restoring native species will not succeed.”

No conflict of interest.

Associate Professor James Russell, conservation biologist, University of Auckland, comments:

“Since the government announced Predator Free 2050 (PF2050) in 2016 as a national goal, one of the strongest criticisms was that there was no overall national strategy. The road to achieving a predator-free nation by 2050 was always going to be a fantastic aspirational goal, alongside many other national aspirational goals, but was paved with many many details and milestones that would need to be achieved on the way.

“Four years later, The Department of Conservation has created such a strategy, and to its merit it is entirely founded on the deep partnership between Mā­ori and Pākehā respecting Tiriti processes. Indeed, the entire strategy document is prepared in the two official written languages of New Zealand.

“The overarching strategy document makes the important point that PF2050 is not the sole basis of New Zealand’s biodiversity strategy – it sits under the national Biodiversity Strategy alongside other critical conservation actions including threatened species work, habitat and marine protection, and weed and other pest control.

“Even more importantly, the strategy recognises that PF2050 should be outcomes-focused: ‘Removing predators enhances our native wildlife, strengthens the resilience of ecosystems and provides broader outcomes for New Zealanders – for primary production, and for health and wellbeing. Killing predators for the sake of it is not why New Zealand is becoming predator free.’

“The strategy also touches on other sensitive subjects, such as how we engage our mokopuna in pest control, by ‘understanding how to scaffold children’s empathy and compassion for the environment while introducing the idea of predator control at the right age‘.

“Sitting under the PF2050 strategy is the action plan, and DOC has wisely chosen to ground the 30-year aspirational goal with a five-year action plan including very many measurable targets. Within this, DOC has courageously added an additional three 2025 interim goals to the original four, which comes across as a rather bold move but acknowledges that to really make progress in the next five years these additional interim goals (tangata whenua-led projects, and making predator eradication gains in cities and farmland) are equally critical.

“At the same time, the first four interim goals set in 2016 are well on their way to being achieved, with budget injections to DOC by the current Government meaning much larger areas of New Zealand forest are currently under sustained pest management.

“The DOC PF2050 strategy also coincides with the PF2050 Ltd research strategy which will be released later this year, and together these two documents will form the basis for how much closer New Zealand will get to achieving PF2050 in the next five years.”

Conflict of interest statement: James Russell was on one of the focus groups for the PF2050 strategy, and is an advisor to Zero Invasive Predators.