A rat chomping on a bird egg

The Bulletin: Is the Predator Free 2050 goal actually possible?

Good morning and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: Predator Free 2050 strategy launched, govt to roll out economic response to Covid-19, and Armed Response Teams in the spotlight.

The strategy outlining how New Zealand will become predator-free by 2050 is being launched today. The idea, a vision of the late Sir Paul Callaghan and first discussed under the last government, has since become a bi-partisan consensus. It basically means that by that year New Zealand could eradicate possums, stoats, rats and so on, to protect biodiversity and make conservation efforts worthwhile. Conservation biologist at Auckland University James Russell says the new strategy addresses the fact that “one of the strongest criticisms was that there was no overall national strategy” for the goal when it was announced. In the launch of the strategy today, what is made clear is that the government doesn’t see this as a project that they’ll be able to do alone – it’ll only work if everyone buys into it. That’ll mean heavy ongoing involvement of iwi groups, businesses, and the community trapping type groups profiled in this edition of The Side Eye.

Currently, 117 islands have been cleared of predators. According to conservation minister Eugenie Sage, that’s having a major and positive impact for native bird conservation. “With 2019 the most successful breeding season for kākāpō ever, it is important to develop more safe, predator free areas as homes for kākāpō and to enable so many other of Aoteroa’s unique birds, insects, wildlife and plants to thrive.” Speaking personally, it is remarkable and thrilling to have seen the effect over decades that a sanctuary area in Karori has had on overall bird populations across Wellington. But clearing the mainland of predators will be a far more difficult job. As the NZ Herald’s Jamie Morton reports, it may even require some form of gene editing to be introduced into pest populations, though that has not been any part of the strategy released today.

That could prove to be a problem, Otago University professor Lisa Ellis told the Science Media Centre. She’s worth quoting at length in this critical assessment of the overall strategy:

“While the Strategy and Action Plan correctly include ambitious investment, sustained collaboration, iterative planning, and technological innovation as essential elements of Predator Free 2050, nowhere do they acknowledge the facts that:

  • under current technology, achieving the Predator Free 2050 goals would not only be unlikely to succeed but also extremely expensive, costing us a significant proportion of our national budget, and
  • of all technologies on the horizon today, only gene editing offers the prospect of potentially affordable and effective eradication, and finally
  • without attention to other drivers of extinction such as habitat loss, the ultimate goal of restoring native species will not succeed.”

And It should probably be remembered that getting to Predator Free status will mean killing vast numbers of animals – yes, they’re introduced pests but they’re still living creatures. On that point, I’d like to point you towards this piece by Nicola Toki, who writes that “true kaitiakitanga and guardianship of our native wildlife is making sure that our birds, reptiles and invertebrates have a safe place to live. The key to getting it right is to hold onto empathy for other living things along the way.”


The finance minister will outline the next steps this week for keeping the economy on track amid the Covid-19 outbreak. It’s not going to be an easy task for Grant Robertson, explains Politik, because of the hit to businesses on both the demand and supply side. Because of that, moves like massive stimulus spending or asking the Reserve Bank to cut interest rates won’t necessarily be an answer by themselves.

Meanwhile Siouxsie Wiles has put together an excellent guide to the ‘epidemic curve’, and how the coronavirus outbreak is likely to play out, based on both an understanding of this virus, and the experience of previous outbreaks. It’s interesting, because it makes it clear that our actions now can make a big difference overall. And Catherine McGregor reports on the existing stretching being done by the health system, and how a major outbreak could put it under extreme pressure.


The story of police Armed Response Teams has been bubbling away for months now, and looking increasingly like a move to arm the police by stealth. Jordan Bond at Radio NZ has looked into the deployment stats, and found that over the first five weeks of the trial, they were sent out at a rate of 50 times that of the Armed Offenders Squad. In fairness, no officer on an ART has yet fired a weapon in the line of duty. However, that also means that they’re basically just doing the job of normal officers – they’re just doing the job with a gun.


Southern Alps glaciers have more snow on them than expected, but climate scientists say the retreat will continue. Star News has reported on the annual end of summer snowline survey, and found that despite a coating of ash from the Australian bushfires, the glaciers have held up alright. However, NIWA’s Dr Andrew Lorrey says “it would take many, many, many, many decent years, in a long run, to even begin to undo some of the damage that we’ve seen in recent years.” It is estimated that around a third of the glacier ice in the Southern Alps has been lost since the survey started in the 1970s.


One of the most interesting angles on the upcoming End of Life Choice bill referendum is how Māori will vote, and whether euthanasia breaches tikanga Māori. Continuing with their standard of excellent and insightful political coverage, The Hui have polled the Māori electorate, and found a large majority of voters in favour of the bill. What’s more, The Hui compiled a panel with a diverse range of Māori voices to meditate on the issue more deeply. It’s outstanding public service television.


Former MP and mayoral candidate John Tamihere is already making waves as a Māori Party candidate. He indicated he’d be running for the party in Tāmaki Makaurau, a seat he used to hold, which is now held by Labour’s Peeni Henare, and will also be contested by Green co-leader Marama Davidson. As Stuff’s Henry Cooke reports, Tamihere has been putting the message out that the party could go with either Labour or National in post-election negotiations, despite party President Che Wilson indicating last month that there was a clear preference for Labour. The candidacy could be something of a mixed blessing for the party – Tamihere has a high profile and mana in the electorate on the one hand, but on the other hand he will be a dominating and polarising figure in a party trying to rejuvenate itself.


There has been an outpouring of grief and genuine respect after the death of former Green co-leader Jeanette Fitzsimons. From across the political spectrum and beyond, she has been remembered for her passion, decency, and for always standing up for what she believed in. Writing on The Spinoff, former Green MP Sue Bradford said “Jeanette brought a quiet but steely determination to everything she did. Her public persona was often of a kindly maternal intelligence, but underneath lay an iron commitment to fighting her corner.”


Got some feedback about The Bulletin, or anything in the news? Drop us a line at thebulletin@thespinoff.co.nz

Right now on The Spinoff: Leah Ruppanner rubbishes the idea that pregnant women are “primed to nest”, despite the idea being constantly reinforced by popular culture and even healthcare professionals.IT executive Hilary Walton writes about the concept of ‘niceness’ for women in the workplace. We’ve got an outstanding brand new essay from Linda BurgessMadison Hamill writes about the concept of Ranfurly Man, in an entertaining ethnography of men and beer. Two spokespeople for Generation Zero and the School Strike 4 Climate explain why their groups won’t be endorsing parties for the election. Wellington councillor Tamatha Paul writes about the importance of making a submission of the National Policy Statement on indigenous biodiversity.

And we’ve republished two exceptionally strong pieces from the Indian Weekender, regarding comments made by NZ First MP Shane Jones about Indian international students. The first is the transcript of an interview with PM Jacinda Ardern, in which she is put under immense pressure as to why she hasn’t sanctioned Jones for the remarks, before saying “in election year, the power now sits with you.” And editor Sandeep Singh has been canvassing views from the Indian community, in which there is a strong sense of anger, bewilderment and resignation at being repeatedly targeted by racist rhetoric.


For a feature today, has the handshake had its day? It’s something to think about with the spread of the coronavirus, and the NZ Initiative’s Eric Crampton has set out why he reckons the traditional greeting should go. It’s not necessarily a take I agree with – I still feel there’s an element of shaking hands which can be an equaliser between all people – but this is an entertaining argument all the same. Here’s an excerpt:

Handshakes have a history. Greek artwork from twenty-five hundred years ago depicts them. People speculate that the handshake originated as a credible demonstration that the right hand held no weapon: an open hand of friendship showed one was not an overt threat.

Times change. As Steven Pinker points out, European murder rates were thirty times higher in the Middle Ages than presently so it is awfully unlikely that the person approaching for an introduction is about to stab you. The handshake is not needed.


Some mixed results for the Football Ferns in their latest round of international matches. Stuff reports they had a good win against Belgium at the invitational Algarve Cup in Portugal, before losing in the semi-final to Italy in a match that they struggled to make anything happen. Their final match of the tournament will now be a 3rd place playoff against Norway. The tournament also saw the end of the international career of Sarah Gregorius, who retired after her 100th game – finishing things off with a penalty shootout goal in the win over Belgium.

Australia has thrashed India to win the Women’s T20 World Cup final, claiming yet another trophy in their long run of tournament success. The match was won up-front, with openers Alyssa Healy and Beth Mooney crushing a century partnership at about 10 runs an over, to put a total on the board that India were always going to struggle to chase. As this match report from Cricinfo makes clear too, the atmosphere was wildly celebratory, and the crowd was huge – around 86,000 came through the gates.

Israel Adesanya has defended his UFC middleweight title, beating Yoel Romero over five rounds. According to most accounts, it wasn’t exactly a particularly interesting fight, but he got the job done all the same.

And finally, I regret to admit this, but I found myself supporting the Blues against the Hurricanes on Saturday. And even if the game ended in farcical circumstances (have a look at the highlights, when it gets to 12 vs 15) the Blues arguably did more than enough over the first 50 minutes to deserve a massive chunk of luck. It’s the first time the Blues have won an away game against an NZ team since 2013.


That’s it for The Bulletin. If you want to support the work we do at The Spinoff, please check out our membership programme.



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