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Kate Wilkinson

3 December, 2012

Towards 2050 – A Pest Summit for New Zealand

Tena koutou, tena koutou katoa,

It is a pleasure to be here today to officiate at the opening of this hugely important workshop. I would like to congratulate the Department of Conservation for initiating what I hope will be two days of fruitful discussions and to also thank those agencies that have provided support to allow this event to occur.

The vision for the summit paints an ecological nirvana, a highly evocative picture of an environment where possums, stoats and rats are no longer killing our native birds or degrading our forests and associated ecosystem services. This is a vision that should resonate with all New Zealanders in search of the Holy Grail of pest eradication.

Protecting our conservation assets is vital. So far:

We’ve added 12,400 hectares in 14 areas to Schedule Four, our most valuable conservation land, and a further 19,000 hectares of land is now protected in the QE II National Trust and Ngā Whenua Rāhui.

In October 2010 I launched a $4 million, three year trial to test self-resetting traps for pest control.
Earlier this month we placed self-setting traps in the Nelson Lakes National Park to protect our great spotted kiwi from stoats.

The traps will also help protect breeding populations of kaka, robin, bellbird and other native species that thrive at Lake Rotoiti.

These new traps - that have passed animal welfare standards - can kill up to 24 pests, and reset themselves each time by a gas-powered mechanism.

This will allow for Department of Conservation staff to spend more time on other conservation work in the Rotoiti Nature Recovery Project instead of tending to the traps.

But let us be clear—dealing with these three pests - possums, stoats and rats - would not be the end of New Zealand’s pest problems. There would be few people in this beautiful country that do not have some sense of the huge impacts that stoats, possums and rats have on this land. These are the “big three” pest threats to our wildlife.

In the last year, DOC alone spent $13.8 million dollars on possum control across 235 thousand hectares; and a further $8.8 million on other animal pests including stoats and rats. Add in control done by Regional Councils, the Animal Health Board, groups and private individuals and we are talking about a huge investment in these pests every year.

A report by agribusiness advisors Nimmo Bell in 2009 estimated that New Zealand spends around $840 million each year on management of all pests. Furthermore, losses as a result of these pests cost $2.5 billion annually to the productive sector alone. This represents highly significant missed investment opportunity elsewhere in the economy. I expect that the cost of impacts on native biodiversity and ecosystem services are magnitudes greater than this.

The public will always ask how successful our pest control efforts are and if the cost can be justified in the long-term? The recovery and flowering of large areas of rata on the West Coast of the South Island is a very tangible and visible reminder that we can achieve good control of possums, stoats and rats with current tools. So is the increased presence of tui and other songbirds in our forests and even closer to hand, the Wellington urban environment.

As the Minister of Conservation with biodiversity and ecosystem services at the core of my responsibilities, I have many constituents who raise significant concerns on both sides of the pest management debate.

We must strive to continuously improve our methods and look for new and innovative ways of dealing with pest problems.

But we should also be mindful of the limited methods of effective pest control we have available and the resistance in some quarters to some very effective tools and other, yet untested techniques. Public engagement at the early stages of design and development, along with looking closely at the social and cultural dynamics of their use, must be a key component of any new research initiatives.

The vision for this workshop is inspirational and aspirational. It challenges us to believe that effective and publicly acceptable suppression and management is possible, if not in our lifetimes, more than certainly within our children’s lifetime.

But suppression is not eradication. Unfortunately pest populations do rebuild if control ceases. Today, eradication is only permanent in contained areas such as offshore islands or those involving high tech fencing like the Karori Sanctuary, but even at these sites we still have to be vigilant in monitoring. For most sites control has to be maintained. Realistically our best efforts today are only just holding back the tide in some places, and at an ever increasing cost.

You have all been invited here as highly respected practitioners in your fields of expertise. You will now be asked to challenge your thinking, to put aside all the existing mental models and constraints that you hold about pest management and to explore the unknown within a new frame of reference, one that has successful suppression and the potential holy grail of eradication as its endpoint.

Many of you are drawn from a traditional small mammal pest background, however interestingly a number of you aren’t. It is hoped that those of you from other areas of expertise will bring new thinking and new tools to the table. We need to think expansively and creatively, to bring a fresh set of eyes in order to see what we might be missing, and importantly to push forward the boundaries of new ideas and technologies if we are to meet the challenge. This workshop is not looking for incremental improvement, nor short term gains, even though there is a place for them. The vision requires you to aim for a step change.

As many of you will now be aware, the Government is looking for challenging ideas for future science investigations. I would like to think that what comes out of this workshop will shape future scientific endeavours. I have already signalled that I want to investigate the setting up of a Biodiversity Forum to focus on issues such as pest management. This workshop will be a valuable adjunct to those future discussions.

Good luck with your workshop over the next two days and I look forward to being informed of the successful outcome.

  • Kate Wilkinson
  • Conservation