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Published: 2009-07-23 00:00:00

Respected New Zealand scientist Alan Saunders has praised Environment Waikato’s strategic approach to regional pest control work, which helps support the local economy and protect native animal and bird life.

Mr Saunders, who has more than 30 years’ experience in species recovery and invasive species management, was a guest presenter at the council’s recent environment committee meeting in Hamilton.  He spoke about the importance of involving communities in conservation initiatives.

He commended the possum control work Environment Waikato had done to protect the region’s agricultural industry from the spread of bovine tuberculosis (Tb), which had achieved a range of conservation benefits.

“Tb has been a great driver for possum control and I think Environment Waikato can take a bow,” Mr Saunders said.

“In my experience, Environment Waikato is a front runner amongst regional councils in terms of strategic approaches.  You’re at the cutting edge of pest control.”

Mr Saunders said managing pests was fundamental to saving New Zealand’s native species from extinction.

He said New Zealand had already lost 75 per cent of its forests, 95 per cent of its freshwater wetlands and more than 40 per cent of its birds.

“More species will be gone forever if we don’t continue to manage pest impacts.”

Councillors at the meeting told Mr Saunders of EW’s challenges in making the public aware of the crucial need to control pests to protect the region’s native biodiversity.

Cr Paula Southgate said the public needed to know what could be lost if Environment Waikato scaled back pest control operations too much.

But Mr Saunders said the public was “learning rapidly” and initiatives such as the Maungatautari Ecological Island Project were helping to change people’s minds about the importance of protecting their natural heritage.

“Maungatautari is a big version of the Karori project in Wellington.  That wasn’t just about conserving rare birds, it was about changing people’s minds.  Maungatautari has a big role in the ‘Waikato ecological desert’.”

He encouraged the council to continue supporting the project and said it was important for EW and other sponsors to realise they were not locked into it long term.

“Once it’s working you’re into the biosecurity phase.  The challenge is to get to the end of the eradication phase and we’ll see a significant reduction in cost and risk.  In 10 years the cost of Maungatautari will be significantly less.”

Mr Saunders managed the Department of Conservation’s Threatened Species Unit from 1989-1998 and was the national coordinator of DOC’s Mainland Island programme from 1998-2002.  He now manages Landcare Research’s International Invasive Species Management Programme.