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Editorial by John Ogden
Chairman GBICT

The GBI Charitable Trust is seeking support from residents and ratepayers on GBI for its goal of eradicating rodents (mice, kiore, and ship rats) and feral cats on Great Barrier Island. Technically this appears feasible as these species have already been eradicated successfully from over 100 off-shore Islands around New Zealand, including some large Islands (Campbell Is. 11,400 ha), and some with small human populations (eg. Kapiti Island). Staff at high levels in the Auckland Regional Council and Department of Conservation have given the Trust assurances that they will seriously look at providing the money and personnel required for this, provided it is supported by the Great Barrier Island community. That is not to say we have a rock-solid guarantee of funding, but it is clear the climate is right — what is required is a clear statement from residents and ratepayers that they seriously want to get rid of rats and feral cats.

In his recent public lecture in Claris, Alan Saunders stressed five conditions, which must be fulfilled for successful rat eradication:

• All individuals of the pest must be put at risk;

•They must be removed faster than they can breed;

• Re-invasion risks must be near zero;

• The eradication process must be socially acceptable, and

• the anticipated benefits must outweigh the risks and costs.

The Department of Conservation has demonstrated repeatedly that the first two conditions can be fulfilled on large islands. The re-invasion risks have been successfully managed on Kapiti and Tiri. Although border biosecurity on GBI is a vastly more complicated task, there is no reason to believe they could not be managed here. The Auckland Regional Council would include provision for it within their Regional Pest Management strategy and we’d all pay for it in our rates, just as we pay for other aspects of our infrastructure. It would generate jobs on the Island. So, all that remains is to find a socially acceptable method, and for everyone to agree that the method is acceptable because the benefits outweigh the risks. As regards costs— of course they will be considerable, but they will be mostly generated off-island, while most of the benefits will accrue on island. That sounds like a good deal to me. The long-term benefits are sure to outweigh the short-term costs, and certainly be more cost-effective than perpetual ‘control’. And the cost has to be seen in the light of the cost of coastal properties on the Island — small biccies in that league.

The Trust has already raised sufficient funding (and promises of funding) to keep the dialogue going with these bodies, and to support research and community involvement in solving the questions an eradication raises, for at least a further 3 years. However, we need your support if this is to become a reality. We need you to vote ‘yes’ in the referendum with this edition of Environmental News, and to put the vote in the mail!

As Chairperson of the Trust I need to stress that ‘yes’ to this vote is not saying yes to a rat or cat eradication programme at this point. That is why the referendum form is so simple! Saying ‘yes’ is a vote of confidence in the Great Barrier Island Charitable Trust, supporting the Trust’s plan to continue researching and seeking support for rat and cat eradication within a time span of 3 to 5 years. If you support us we will continue to look at the economic costs and benefits, and research the technical feasibility in more detail, and report back to you. We will initiate a cost-benefit analysis and a technical feasibility survey as soon as we have the funds to do so. The methodology adopted must be appropriate to an Island containing diverse human communities and livestock, on a scale not before considered feasible. It is important to understand the pro’s and con’s of your support for the Trust at this point. If you vote ‘yes’ you will be generating enthusiasm within the board, which will continue to research and advocate the potential benefits of Great Barrier becoming the "largest rat-free Island in the World" — a New Zealand showcase for native bush walks and coastal adventures where reintroduced native birds could thrive. John Innes has pointed out the international significance of such an achievement in his lecture in January.

On the other hand, if you vote "no" the currently supportive financial and political atmosphere within the local bodies (including D.o.C) could easily be lost. Resources would almost inevitably be channeled to other conservation projects supported by their local communities. Moreover, the GBI Trust members will not feel able to advocate for the eradication, and will have to reassess their goals and priorities. Of course, we hope and believe that this will not happen – but now is the time to have your say!