Editorial - Local Politics and Extra-Sensory Perception
by Chair John Ogden


By the time you read this the election result will be known, so I’ll avoid national politics! Local politics have also been particularly active of late. The most important thing from the Trust’s perspective has been the formation of a new Local Board Committee – the ESP committee! Although I’ve no doubt some extra-sensory perception will be required, the initials stand, rather grandly, for ‘Environmental Strategy Planning’. The committee is chaired by Richard Somerville-Ryan and comprises all Local Board members. The terms of reference include:

1. Regional Environmental Issues and their effect on Great Barrier
2. Pest Management and Eradication
3. Biodiversity and Species Management
4. Marine Parks and protection
5. Water Quality
6. Other Environmental Issues and their importance to GBI.

The committee is authorised to consult widely with the local community and community groups, to hold public meetings, to call for submissions and commission reports on any important aspects of GBI environment. The need for “community consultation /surveys on environment and pest management” was the strongest single submission to the Local Board Plan. The new Committee has got off to an excellent start with it’s first ‘public forum’ meeting on 23 November running for over 3 hours. I presented the Trust’s response to Auckland Council’s paper on the pollution issues in Tryphena. One of the Council’s Land and Water Management Team (Matt Harrex) was present at the meeting, and the Trust’s suggestion that it would be better to get council officers to come to GBI for face to face discussion rather than continued report writing was readily agreed to. Judy Gilbert spoke about the need to set up a community consultation process on environmental issues including pest control. This was, once again, bogged down by the view that “you can get anything you want from a questionnaire”. So, lets get a process going that avoids that partisan approach; who knows what we or anyone else wants, until we or they, are asked? This cannot be discovered by extra-sensory perception, by either this new committee or the Trust. As Sue Daly stressed, providing “Issues and Options” papers for people to read beforehand is part of the process. That should be led by the Local Board, with input from all concerned. To judge from the number and enthusiasm of Auckland Council advisors present at the meeting, there is a lot of potential help with this process. Judy also spoke about the possibilities of getting support for research on coastal planning, and the need to ensure that Glenfern Sanctuary is preserved as Tony Bouzaid’s legacy.

A highlight of the ESP meeting was a presentation by Jack Craw (Auckland Council, Biosecurity) about strengthening measures to prevent incursions of Norway rats, possums or mustelids, and how this translates into more jobs and money coming into the Island. Jack also reported on the appointment of a local biosecurity officer, the instigation of a preventative weed program and ongoing work to contain the spread of invasive Argentine ants. In response to concerns about the use of poisons, Jack outlined research on new electronic trapping and monitoring systems, and improvements in the specific delivery of toxins. There is growing optimism about a pest-free Great Barrier in the future.

Matt Harrex talked about the role of the Land and Water Management team, and offered support and advice. His team can strengthen and support funding applications to council or other bodies. Likewise Viv. Sherwood offered help to schools in Environmntal Education, and particularly emphasized the ‘Wai Care’ program, which can provide stream quality testing kits.

In response to a request from Paul Downey, Tim Lovegrove of the Council’s Biodiversity team presented a paper dealing with the issues and options involved in returning kokako to the Northern Block of Great Barrier. The Trust initiated a hui on this topic in September, and a working group led by Rodney Ngawaka has been formed. Although the process will inevitably be long, it has already drawn attention to some important issues about how we control animal pests. With studies at Little Windy Hill, Glenfern Sanctuary, Motu Kaikoura and others, there is a lot of local information about this. Izzy Fordham hoped to get more awareness of the need for rat control generally and moved that money be made available from the Local Board to subsidise traps (not toxins) for residents.

Marine protection was brought up by Peter Blackwell, and addressed also by Scott Mabey. Here again there is a need for community consultation, although the general feeling of Barrierites was well known by ESP – the need to curtail the local commercial catch. This must be addressed at ministerial level.

I’ve missed a few things out, but I hope I’ve given you a feeling for the wide-ranging and potentially important role of this committee. The Trust congratulates the Local Board on taking this important step forwards and looks forwards to working with the new committee and assisting with the planning of a long-term environmental strategy.

Addendum: Balance of Nature.

The ‘balance of nature’ comes up frequently with regard to control of rats, rabbits and cats and the protection of native biota on Great Barrier. The idea is that cats eat (control ) rats and rabbits, so if we remove rats or bunnies the cats will eat birds and/or lizards, therefore it’s better to leave the ‘balance’ alone. This is a non-sequiteur – that is, while the first part of the sentence may be true, the second part (the conclusion) does not flow logically from it. Rats are not in balance with native birds or native plants – they are steadily destroying more and more of them. Great Barrier has already lost twelve bird species since rats arrived – kokako and whiteheads within recent decades. The process is continuing with black petrel, kakariki, tomtit, bittern and spotless crake, all either known to be declining or known to be at risk. Bellbirds can’t re-establish from Hauturu because their nests are predated by rats. Much of the rat-infested bush is silent – Te Paparahi has some of the best forest left on the Island, but it is almost bird-free. In contrast the rat-free ‘scrub ‘ and forest patches at Windy Hill are alive with the noise of birds. Cats may ‘control’ rats, but only because there is a constant supply of rats because they in turn are constantly feeding on native birds etc. The so-called cat/rat or cat/rabbit balance is an awful combination, which is steadily destroying our bird-life and our coastal and lowland vegetation. To stop the carnage and restore the ‘balance’ we need to get rid of all three pests, as nearly simultaneously as possible. This is not pie-in-the-sky: new delivery systems for environmentally safe toxins, new electronic multiple killing devices and new remote monitoring systems are all around the corner. It is quite possible that within a decade the means to achieve a pest-free Great Barrier and provide on-going employment and visitor income will be available, especially if we all agree to do our part in support of that goal.