Sunday, 27 January 2019

Biodiversity in New Zealand--DoC submission

New Zealanders have an opportunity to share their thoughts on what the country's biodiversity strategy should be over the next fifty years. Submissions are due 28 February, 2019 to the Department of Conservation. The submission form (here) has several questions on it. Below are my answers. If you care about biodiversity in New Zealand, take time to make your own submission. You are free to "borrow" some of my thoughts if you want, but please reword them. 

Why does biodiversity matter to you and your community?
I think for a lot of people, biodiversity matters mostly because they’ve been told it should matter. Few people have actually put much thought into this, and some don’t even know what biodiversity means. Most of our agricultural industry, which is the economic backbone of New Zealand, is much more interested in monocropping and growing/raising conforming plants and animals (they’re easier to manage and harvest) than encouraging biodiversity because having a little of everything is not easily managed, and not very profitable. That said, biodiversity is hugely important because an ecosystem is made stronger when it is made up of a diverse range of bioforms, rendering it capable of withstanding environmental stresses.

What does biodiversity mean to you? What other words would you use to describe biodiversity?
The definition of biodiversity is “the variety of plant and animal life in the world or in a particular habitat, a high level of which is desirable.” New Zealand’s conservationists seem to have hijacked this word by inserting “indigenous” or “endemic” or “native” into the definition (often implied). The natural world, however, isn’t at all concerned with where a species came from—that’s a societal construct that enables people to label some species as more desirable than others. Such value judgments create the concept of “good” and “bad” plants and animals, which implies humans have the right (indeed, some would say obligation) to step in and manage them by nurturing the desired ones, and killing the undesired ones. As a nation of farmers and gardeners, with a farming and gardening mentality, this comes as little surprise. Me? I like the proper definition better. I think we DO need biodiversity, especially in our wild spaces, and without the “indigenous” constraint. I love to see what Mother Nature does to repair and create life in all of the various ecological niches using all of the many species she has on hand to work with. Nature is not static. Monocrops are not natural. Limiting the number of species in an ecosystem is not natural and makes it less resilient, less healthy. New Zealand is blessed with many unique species, but an appreciation of biodiversity does not mean to me that only those unique species that we claim as indigenous (or profitable, and fenced) should have value and a right of protection.

What are your aspirations for biodiversity in New Zealand?

I would like to see New Zealand’s natural spaces allowed to be natural, without man’s interference. I would like to see recognition and appreciation for all living things without judgement. I would like to see Nature’s creativity encouraged, with evolution and change being recognized not as something to be fought against, but as processes to be understood and appreciated. I would like to see all plants and animals, not just indigenous ones, valued and understood for the roles they fill in creating and sustaining an ecosystem. I would like to see more “bottom up” science where natural ecosystems are studied and understood without fear-mongering, media-hype, political agendas, and interventions.

What kinds of goals or objectives should a strategy aim to achieve?

The most important goal is to make New Zealand a safe, wholesome place to live where the joys, delights, wonders, and beauties of nature are accessible to everyone, and where people come to understand that they are part of nature, not the bosses over it. The “clean, green” motto is a worthy aspiration/goal. To do that, we need to get chemicals and poisons out of our ecosystem, and stop our reliance on the “quickest, cheapest fix”. Indeed, we need to stop trying to “fix” Nature. She isn’t broken. It is time for a new paradigm. Pull the money out of chemicals and poisons, invest it in education and parks and access to what we already have. Encourage the establishment of new wild places. Urban/suburban parks, which are managed, are good too, as places near towns and cities where people can interact with nature. Let the dog run, kids climb trees and play cricket, as well as discover plants, thrill at the sight of a kaka, a pheasant, a hare, a swath of manuka in bloom, a Monarch butterfly. Plantings of both natives and exotics can enhance barren areas, and in well-used parks these, of course, need some ongoing maintenance. Build biodiversity by allowing a wide range of plants and animals to intermingle and interact. Watch. Observe. Put more money into “bottom-up” science funding for understanding how species interact and affect their environment, less on management. We know too little, and assume too much.

What are the key challenges facing biodiversity that you think a new strategy needs to address?

The biggest challenge is changing the existing management paradigm and mindset with its war-like seek and destroy mission aimed at invasive plants and animals, and the over-handed management of indigenous species—e.g., regular handling of wild birds and handicapping them with radio collars or planting indigenous plants in places no longer optimum for them due to climate change or human terraforming. This means also means back-tracking on the “Predator Free” initiative (which will never happen) without losing face. It means trying to retain jobs and budgets while redirecting funds to more positive uses. Changing these attitudes and ways of doing things both within DoC, and within the minds of the general public, is an enormous task.

There are some unique native species in New Zealand that need special protection. Offshore islands and areas like Zealandia with predator-proof fences do not create truly “natural” areas, but they are important for the protection of some of our most vulnerable species and certainly superior to zoos with cages. More areas like these are an excellent direction for resources.

Scientifically, more bottom-up observational science of the inter-relationships within any given ecosystem is essential, and keeping the public educated and informed through media. Overseas, for example, we are learning of the extraordinary loss of insect life that forms a foundation food source for many species. Is that being studied here? What effect does the use of poison (both herbicides and pesticides) have on our insects? Or, what about water quality? If our ponds, lakes, streams, estuaries, and shorelines are contaminated by farm runoff, urban sewerage outflows, and the use of agricultural chemicals, herbicides and poisons, what run-on effect does this have on our biodiversity? And what steps do we need to take to stop or at least mitigate the harm?

Do you have examples of successful biodiversity management in your area?

I live on the Kapiti Coast, and there is a strong environmental interest here. We have many parks and fine places to walk with good paths through natural-seeming areas. Many local people participate in beach clean-ups and indigenous plantings. These are positive things. Personally, I believe herbicides like Roundup and pest poisons like brodifacoum are way over-used, and some individuals are over-zealous in their approach to natives--I remember a few years back a when a lot of native plants were removed after being identified as not actually indigenous to the Kapiti coast per se. Again, this comes back to the definition of biodiversity. Strictly speaking, any limiting of species in an area goes against the true meaning of biodiversity.

What would it take to make a strategy meaningful to you? What is the best format for it—a document, website, etc?

Meaningful? Whatever strategy is taken, it has meaning for me because I care about the environment, our land, our water, our ecosystems, and our planet. Personally, I use a computer quite a lot, and both PDF documents and websites are useful for information, but “meaningful” implies something more—it implies, perhaps, “I care”. I will care about an official biodiversity strategy and support it if it aligns with my personal values (e.g., “first, do no harm”). 

Can you help to develop a title / analogy for the New Zealand biodiversity strategy?

Clean water, clean air, clean forests. Valuing all life in its many forms. Compassionate conservation. Allowing evolution to happen.

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