It has been a while since I’ve written an edition of Second Nature, but it’s fair to say that the world of protecting threatened species never stands still. The last month alone has seen huge momentum in setting science-based goals and working together to achieve better outcomes for our threatened flora and fauna.
Threatened Species Strategy and Summit
This year I’ve been very proud to be involved in the development of New Zealand’s first Threatened Species Strategy which outlines our plan to halt the decline of threatened species in New Zealand and restore them to healthy populations. New Zealand has extremely high rates of endemism and one of the highest proportions of threatened species in the world.
Despite a large number of reports that have detailed the critical state that many of our native species are in (3,000 are categorised at At Risk or Threatened, and around 800 of these fall into the Threatened category), most New Zealanders think that our native wildlife is doing OK. Seventy per cent of the public felt the state of the country’s native plants, animals and fish was adequate or doing well last year, according to Lincoln University’s “Perceptions of the New Zealand Environment” report, co-authored by DOC’s Chief Science Advisor, Ken Hughey.
As DOC’s Threatened Species Ambassador, this is a bit concerning – if New Zealanders don’t appreciate or understand how much trouble our wildlife is in, then how do we get people to care, and importantly, to take action to help protect it? This is where the newly developed Draft Threatened Species Strategy comes in. Importantly it raises the profile of threatened species in general, and stakes out an evidence-based approach for how we intend to turn things around in a cohesive way that channels everyone’s collective efforts through clearly articulated goals.
Building on existing commitments and programmes, such as Predator Free 2050 and Battle for our Birds, the strategy identifies further steps we need to take not only to restore those species that are already at risk of extinction, but also to prevent others from becoming threatened. We invite all New Zealanders to be a part of that effort, through your actions, but we also want to hear from you about the Draft Strategy and whether you think we have it right. You can submit on the Draft here.
The Strategy has four main goals:
1). Manage 500 species for protection by 2025– a 40% increase on today – and 600 species for protection by 2030.
2). Enhance the populations of 150 prioritised threatened and at risk species by 2025.
3). Integrate Te Ao Māori (the Māori world view) and mātauranga Māori (Māori knowledge) into species recovery programmes by 2025.
4). Support research, particularly through the National Science Challenges, that helps us to better understand data deficient species.
The strategy was launched last month at the Threatened Species Summit, as part of the Biological Heritage National Science Challenge “Crazy and Ambitious” conference at Te Papa. The Summit was a fantastic cross-section of expert speakers who spoke on a range of topics. Included in this were a number of DOC’s threatened species experts in botany, wilding pines, pest control and a science talk from DOC’s own Dr Andrew Digby, who spoke of the science behind the Kākāpō Recovery programme and the importance of the kākāpō genome project . (He also referred to the infamous “kākāpō helmet” now on display at Te Papa, which is probably my favourite ecological science gadget of all time).
Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment report: “Taonga of an island nation – Saving New Zealand’s birds”
Last month the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, Dr Jan Wright, released her report on New Zealand’s native birds. In early discussions with Jan and the team while they were developing the report, she made the comment to me that she hadn’t known how many different kinds of native birds we have, and she didn’t know how threatened they were due to introduced predators and habitat loss. The report shines a light on the state of our native bird species and makes several recommendations for how we might address some of the many threats they face, as well as what it might take to restore large numbers of endemic birds to mainland New Zealand.
The report was welcomed by DOC, particularly since it reinforced the need to suppress and eradicate predators such as rats, stoats and possums through the Predator Free 2050 goal as being a critical step to address the loss of our native birds. She also highlighted the need to foster protection of threatened species on private land, which is one of our Threatened Species Strategy themes that I will be working hard on this year. The report is well worth a read: Taonga of an island nation – Saving New Zealand’s birds.
Conservation Volunteers New Zealand “Wild Futures” launch
Due to all the strategising and planning I’ve been involved in, I’ve spent a lot of time at my desk and I haven’t had as much chance to get out of the office lately, but I did speak at the Conservation Volunteers New Zealand “Wild Futures” launch hosted at Zealandia.
This was another example of an evidence-based approach to threatened species conservation, since in this case, the Conservation Volunteers New Zealand (CVNZ) team had approached us last year to ask which species would benefit from volunteer work, and how could they contribute meaningfully to improving outcomes for these species. This “Wild Futures” model has been running for ten years in Australia. Here in New Zealand, DOC and CVNZ are working on six species as part of the Wild Futures programme on this side of the ditch. The species are tuna/long-finned eel, kōkako, kākā, tāiko/Westland petrel, rāpoka/New Zealand sea lion and kororā/blue penguin. The CVNZ team worked really hard to identify species that needed help through action and donation, that were in relatively accessible areas to volunteers to carry out work, and they will produce action plans for each species to detail how they are going to make a difference. I am really impressed with their approach, their attention to detail (including researching recovery plans and talking to DOC scientists and experts) and their enthusiasm in general. Tau kē!