Opinion by Tony Orman in which he recalls the 2007 ERMA review into 1080 poison and the nature of bureaucrats
In 2007 along with a number of people – scientists, conservationists, deerstalkers and others – I made submissions to a government appointed panel set up under the Environmental Risk Management Authority (ERMA), an agency under the umbrella of the Ministry for the Environment.
I was suspicious from the very first origins of the ERMA Review Into 1080 panel. After all it was set up at the request of the Department of Conservation and Animal Health Board, the two principal users and spreaders of 1080 poison.
You have to understand the nature and aspirations of bureaucrats.
They create a problem, if only in the minds of the public by employing spin doctors (publicists) so as to give a reason for their existence, their empires and the staff they employ. The more staff, the higher the salary.
So thus are bureaucracies born and grow. Money is allocated each year and the “system” works such that if they don’t use all the dollars in a financial year, the next year’s vote allocation of money is very likely to be accordingly cut. But spend to the limit, indeed over it and apply a good dose of publicity, propaganda and myth and the money given in the coming year, is likely to be increased.
So was born the mythical figure of 70 million possums and the spin doctors told us that the animals were devouring thousands of tonnes of foliage a night. They brought in David Bellamy from the UK to front a TV campaign where he gesticulated vigorously to describe the way the army of deer and possums were going “munchy munchy munchy” eating their way through the bush.
In actual fact, the possum population was never anywhere near that number nor did they behave in that way. Agencies like the Department of Conservation and the Animal Health Board had created their very existences around the “possum problem” for twin reasons of “foliage gobbled” and possums spreading bovine Tb respectively.
Yet scientists have told them otherwise. At a workshop on “Possums as Conservation Pests” in November 1994, a Landcare scientist pointed out based on the dubious figure of 70 million possums, that possums “apparently consume about 21,000 tonnes of vegetation per day (presumably 300 g wet wt. consumption x 70 million possums).
“This oft-quoted figure (21,000 tonnes of vegetation) is frequently used to depict possum as a rapacious consumer of all things green, but that implication ignores the daily foliage production of 300,000 tonnes for forests alone (7.5 million hectares x 15 tonnes wet weight of foliage per hectare per year).”
What the scientist seemed to me, to be saying was that even if the 70 million possum population figure was true, then the browsing by possums was only about 7 percent of daily foliage production of New Zealand’s forests – an insignificant effect.
He added, “Possums do not threaten total (national) deforestation –
for the bulk of New Zealand’s forest, the process is one of compositional rather than structural change.”
In brief the only effect of the browsing is to lessen the percentage of palatable foliage which possums eat.
On any die-back of trees which has caused by browsing of possums, Graham Nugent pointed out that this invariably occurred “about 15 to 25 years after they (possums) colonise an area which is about when their numbers reach an unsustainably high peak before dropping to lower levels (the irruptive oscillation)”.
Despite the realities spelt out by scientists at that 1994 workshop, DOC continued to apply 1080 and other poisons such as brodifacoum as their tools for combating the possum “pest.”
It’s necessary to understand the personality of a bureaucrat. Not all within a department are bureaucratic by nature but many – indeed often most – are and they usually occupy senior management and policy positions. The word bureaucrats is one which dictionaries have varying definitions. One I have, says a bureaucracy is “any official organisation with too much power or having too many rules.”
Now bureaucrats are invariably very insecure people. They are often frightened, for various reasons:-
• Frightened that they might be found out for fiction rather than facts
• Frightened that their bureaucratic empires cannot be justified.
• Frightened to admit past decisions, failures, inactivity and policies have wasted public money.
• Frightened they might be found to be wrong and lose their lucrative positions.
So no bureaucrat is going to request a review – in this case 1080 – unless they are assured the result will ensure their policies, empires and salaries will continue to be funded. In short the AHB and DOC collaborated to ensure the result would be as they wished. The deck was stacked since the 1080 factory is government-owned through a State Owned Enterprise (SOE) and that ERMA is a government agency.
So I was cynical about the whole review from the start.
Tit For Tat
‘My concerns were soon borne out. Firstly it was found that a former DOC manager, said to be one of the architects of DOC’s pro-1080 programme, was a member of the panel. Complaints were laid and an embarrassed ERMA, removed the former DOC man but then in a seeming “tit for tat” manoeuvre, removed a Maori representative who had genuine concerns about 1080. No one had laid a complaint about the Maori representative. Why was he removed?
My interpretation of events was the carefully prearranged voting (stacked deck) designed to favour 1080 and therefore applicants DOC and AHB, had been upset by the exposure of ERMA being found putting a strongly pro-1080 former DOC person on the panel. So the voting numbers were restored by removing one “from the opposition.”
Then prior to public submissions, the spin doctors got to work. The Animal Health Board and DOC made public press releases lauding 1080 as the best option. This was then followed by ERMA who were meant to be engaging in an impartial, fair review, publicly praising 1080 poison too!
Then came news that the ERMA panel would be meeting in only a handful of venues. Omitted were Marlborough and the West Coast, the latter particularly a hotbed of public anger at the poison. In addition, submitters would be restricted to just ten minutes, part of which would be questions from the panel.
My submission went to over 30 pages. Obviously I could only present a small fraction of it in just five or six minutes, once question time was excluded.
It was a case of token consultation – just lip service to consulting but not actually practising it.
Some submitters protested at the blatantly inadequate time. Reluctantly ERMA gave a few groups, a half hour.
My submission, and those of many others, set out a lot of facts which made little difference in the end. ERMA was to give the continued use of 1080 the green light.
I made my submission against 1080 but I would not incur the costs of travel to Wellington for just five minutes of speaking time. I reckoned that was an insult to any member of the public and a barrier to democracy.
Instead my submission was presented by a friend.
In short my submission said:-
1.The manner of spreading 1080 especially from the air, is indiscriminate and with the potential to cause long term ecological damage.
2. The policies of the Department of Conservation (DOC) and Animal Health Board (AHB) have little biological logic or base and are guided by an anti-wild animal prejudice rather than scientific fact
3. The Animal Health Board’s policy and priorities on bovine Tb are based on misconceptions as to causes of TB spread.
4. 1080 is unethical as a slow acting, non-selective poison
5. The poison regime is economically not viable. It is a threat to New Zealand’s ‘clean, green image’ export edge.”
Why do publicly funded agencies such as the Animal Health Board and Department of Conservation promote policies like 1080 poison and it’s mythical justifications as bovine Tb and possums “destroying” the vegetation?
It is simply vested interests.
Anyone’s job or an empire has to have a purpose, no matter whether fact or fiction.
In addition, a department and its management have a vested interest because salaries depend on staff employed. The more staff, the more responsibility, the higher a manager’s salary is.
And the justification for policies and jobs will be trundled out by public relations staff commonly known as spin doctors.
Spin doctors are artful in weaving propaganda. At times, it resembles a case of the “Emperor ‘s New Clothes”, a nursery tale of an emperor who strode around nude and because the myth was that his new clothes were indeed to be admired, no one dared point out the reality, that is until a young boy had the courage to do so.
So it is with the possum myth which has been conjured up by much propaganda. Hark on these words on propaganda:-.
Fib After Fib
“If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.”
Those were the words of one of the greatest political propagandists of all time – Josef Goebbels of Nazi Germany.
In other words, propaganda, by lying, convinces the unsuspecting public and will go to considerable lengths to personally attack and character assassinate people who endeavour to expose it.
The hunting public because they oppose 1080, are labelled as “selfish” in not wanting deer poisoned. In fact, most hunters are concerned at the overall destructive effect of poisons, not just on deer, but bird life, invertebrates and the overall ecosystem, including humans.
Hunters have a proud record in conservation crusades. Deerstalkers were to the fore in the “Save Manapouri” battle of the 1970s and have vocally opposed exploitation such as trout farming, selling beech forests to Japan, nitrate pollution of rivers, foreigners acquiring New Zealand land and even backed issues like human population limits to prevent forcing the consequential demands on natural resources.