Sir Rob Fenwick: The war on predators

Leading environmentalist Sir Rob Fenwick says New Zealand needs a military style campaign to eliminate introduced predators.

Sir Rob, who is chairman of Predator Free NZ trust, says the country should view the battle in the same way it did the last two world wars.

“Today the threat of invasion is here, the invaders of opossums and rats and stoats and wild cats that are destroying the things we love and create our national identity."

Sir Rob outlined his vision in a video interview produced by the NEXT foundation, the philanthropic vehicle backed by the Plowman family. The Plowmans have committed $100m to environmental and educational projects over the next five years.

“We have this army of tens of thousands of New Zealanders who are out there at the weekend making their reserves, farms and their marae predator free ... we’ve got organisations like the Department of Conservation who want to partner with organisations …. and we have got philanthropic organisations like Next who believe this is the most effective way to make a difference for conservation in New Zealand.

So it’s really an opportunity to connect the pieces and bring a strategic overview to what I think is really a military campaign to push back these invaders because it is a very insidious war that they have waged.”

Sir Rob advocates the continuing use of the controversial toxin 1080 as a weapon in the war on predators.

“We simply have to keep using weapons like this however blunt some people think they are. They are really the most effective way we have of controlling predators in the forest. But there will be new technologies that come along – multi kill traps …. wi-fi transmission on traps that means we don’t have to check them every day.”

Ultimately, he believes a genetic solution will be found. “It is not a question of if, but when.”

According to Sir Rob, “Corngate” was a significant setback in the search for a genetic solution to the predator problem.

“In New Zealand we have had quite a difficult relationship with genetics since “Corngate” 15 years ago when the political environment was so hostile that we abandoned genetic research for ... virtually 15 years. Much has changed and many of the risks that were inherent in gene technology in the past are now much better managed.”

Sir Rob says there is a strong economic argument for making the country predator free.

“We have this tsunami of new tourists coming to New Zealand and many of our best destinations are already at peak capacity and we have to find new places for visitors to enjoy, and the idea of having an experience of our extraordinary, unique bio-diversity has a real economic driver to it “

He also makes the case that scientists now believe the economic value of New Zealand’s forests in combating climate change has been underestimated, making the need to protect and improve them paramount.

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