Government unveils Predator Free 2050 plan

The Department of Conservation (DoC) has officially launched its new predator-free plan.

It's an ambitious project to rid New Zealand of introduced predators that damage local flora and fauna - such as rats, stoats and possums - by 2050.

"This has been a long time coming," Forest and Bird spokesperson Tom Kay told The AM Show on Monday.

"Forest and Bird has been calling for a strategy pretty much since the announcement of the goal in the first place. The key now is making sure there's funding and resource behind this because it's ambitious and we really need to get in behind it."

The project has  been developed in consultation with iwi, scientists and the public.

"It's a huge goal and at face value it seems really difficult," says Kay. "It's often hard to get our head out of that kind of old-school thinking. We're used to this environment where we're suppressing predators to really low levels but there are a lot of people out there working on really promising ways to actually eradicate and I think it can be done." 

According to DoC, the plan has "milestone goals" for every four-year period. 

By 2025, the plan aims to: 

  • eradicate predators from blocks of at least 20,000 hectares
  • suppress introduced predators on a further 1 million hectares
  • eradicate all predators from offshore island nature reserves
  • achieve the capability to eradicate at least one introduced predator

Lisa Ellis,  a professor of philosophy and politics at the University of Otago, says it's a good start. 

"The strategy recognises the values that we're trying to realise by putting so many resources and so many people's effort into protecting our native species," Dr Ellis told Newshub.

The plan aims to save around 4000 species of native fauna deemed to be at some kind of risk. . It focuses on eradicating possums, three species of rats, stoats, ferrets and weasels.

However, Dr Ellis said she fears the plan is too narrow and overlooks new initiatives being developed.

"There was zero mention of gene editing, which is not yet a technology that's online but we need to be talking about that today so that when it does come online we are ready." 

She says people will need to forgo land development in favour of habitat restoration, and everyone will need to work together if the plan is to be successful.

"I was impressed with the commitment to society-wide collaboration.  It really is going to take society-wide collaboration for this to succeed."

Kay said around 60 percent of the country is in private ownership, making it even more important all Kiwis are on board with the project.

"A huge amount of our native habitat is across private and public land," he said. 

Dr Brendon Blue, of the School of Environment and George Mason Centre for the

Natural Environment, The University of Auckland, also stressed how important public efforts were for the plan to succeed.

"As Predator Free 2050 brings conservation efforts into New Zealanders' backyards, success will depend on the public not just accepting predator control but actively participating in it." 

Since 2016, 117 islands around the country have already been declared predator-free, according to DoC.