An Opinion by John McNab
For decades now New Zealand has been afflicted with a phobia that decrees all introduced species are evil.
It’s a paranoia that is unrealistic and reeks selective hypocrisy.
Even the farming industry has been afflicted. Some Federated Farmers refer to trout as “invasive predators.” Back in 2015, the dairy industry joined with NEXT Foundation and Department of Conservation aiming “to dramatically transform the way invasive predators are managed on mainland New Zealand.” Then there is “Pest Free NZ” and in the “Top of the South” Picton held its first ever “PESTIVAL”, which, as the name suggests, was a festival about pests and pest eradication. In a bizarre phobic-driven event, pests were judged biggest, smallest and most unusual.
One of the judges was none other than cat hater campaigner Gareth Morgan. He too had fallen victim to the phobia.
The phobia is not new. Over 60 years ago in 1958, an eminent US zoologist Dr William Graf travelled to New Zealand to see the wild deer “problem”, on behalf of the State of Hawaii which was contemplating liberating deer.
No Deer Problem
Dr Graf in his subsequent report wrote that there was no “deer problem” and there existed in New Zealand an “anti-exotic wild animal phobia to the extent that much of the public as well as many government officials do not and cannot view the subject in an objective perspective.”
Dr Graf was pilloried by government officials. The anti-exotic phobia recovered from the professor’s attack and is alive and well. Or is it?
Overseas it has been denounced but don’t expect the mediocre biassed NZ media to pick up on it. A few years ago Emma Marris from Montana, USA, mid-last year, writing in the esteemed “National Geographic” magazine said ” a new attitude is emerging that’s less reflexively hostile toward invaders.”
She cited a Conservation Biology symposium held mid-2014 in Missoula, Montana at which scientists wondered, how do you define “native” on a warming planet, when plants and animals are already moving toward the poles or up mountainsides in search of climate conditions they can tolerate?
“And then there are the non-natives that we actually like.”
Emma Marris wrote that more and more conservationists are saying stop focusing obsessively on categorizing species as native or non-native.
Mark Davis, an ecologist at Minnesota, once considered himself an “invasion biologist”—but not anymore.
“I am actively trying to get the field to retire the invader narrative,” he said at the symposium.
“In some cases we can best serve biodiversity by leaving the non-natives alone or even—brace yourself, now—introducing them on purpose” wrote Emma Marris. “I also believe that hating non-native species is counterproductive and unfair.”
New Zealand is no different in basic biology, food chains and predator-prey relationships than anywhere else. Many introduced species have been beneficial. For example, “introduced” cattle, sheep, pumpkins, potatoes and parsnips are economic and food assets. We colour our gardens with exotic dahlias and daffodils, petunias and pansies.
Native species often benefit. Tuis to bellbirds, pigeons, waxeyes and others feast on the flowers of “introduced” flowering gums, abutilons, proteas, grevilleas and yes even broom. Native pigeons love the latter. Even gorse is considered beneficial in giving shelter to native seedlings. As the regeneration of natives matures, the gorse deprived of light, naturally dies.
Deer – the subject of Dr Graf’s 1958 visit – are farmed and are being increasingly looked upon as a recreational asset. Wild deer and for that matter the herbivore possum, are “browsers” of vegetation, very arguably simply filling the browsing niche that millions of browsing moas and other native birds (e.g. kokako, kereru etc) once occupied over 50 millions of years or so.
If one must use the term “invasive pests” I would argue the most ecologically destructive ones have been humans in two waves of migration?
Carbon emissions from automobiles and jet planes, urban sprawl, chemical spraying, nitrate levels in rivers from haphazard dairying expansion, corporate plundering of inshore fisheries, urban effluent into rivers and coastal waters and others.
© Sheep introduced, are an economic asset. It has been said, over 60% NZ’s exports comes from agriculture