Seven hundred-odd kilometres south of Papakura, as the crow flies, the Department of Conservation is waging war on introduced pests. Great stuff, many people might think, giving the matter a quick nod of approval before carrying on with their busy lives.
This is what DOC does, after all. It conserves. That’s what conservation means, doesn’t it? They work tirelessly to preserve and protect, to resurrect and regenerate, to keep everything that’s unique and special about New Zealand safe.
Yes, that word. Safe. Everything must be saved, from Evil Mankind and All His Activities. The climate, the environment, the rivers, the bush, indeed the fragility of Nature itself. All of it is under constant attack, and in a continuous state of imminent annihilation; or so we are told.
This, in New Zealand at least, is generally regarded as well-intentioned and a valuable undertaking.
Except that in this particular case, the nasty, invasive, introduced pest species sitting in DOC’s poison hopper gunsights is Lupinus polyphyllus, better known to generations of New Zealanders, as well as literally millions of foreign visitors, as the Mt Cook lupin.
That’s right – DOC are embarking on a mission to eradicate the pretty pink, purple, and blue flowers that have famously graced swathes of the South Island, from North Canterbury through the MacKenzie Country and into Central Otago and the Southern Lakes since the late 1940s (all the while quietly feeding the bees and fixing nitrogen in the soil), for the crime of being non-native.
In fact, DOC, along with a number of ‘Environmental’ groups, have all but openly declared that nothing that wasn’t in New Zealand prior to the arrival of the white man has any right to be here, and must be exterminated. I say ‘Environmental’ in inverted commas because for these people, the use of indiscriminate and systemic poisons, be they herbicides or vertebrate toxins, is justifiable if it serves their ends, even if it fails diametrically to meet the definitions of conservation or environmentalism. No part of an ecosystem can be taken in isolation and poisoning one bit of it also poisons the rest.
And I say prior to the arrival of the white man because naturally their concerns do not extend to such of God’s creatures and creations as the Kiore, or Polynesian rat, or Ipomoea batatas, otherwise known as kumara – because these are of course taonga and including them on the list of things introduced and thus unacceptable, would be racist.
This type and degree of zealotry is a cause for concern in my view. There is a fixation, an obsession even, with the return, at all costs, to a New Zealand free of any and all influences other than those of Nature herself. But in their pursuit of this irrational goal, these people are quite prepared to use any wholly unnatural method available to them.
But here’s the thing; Nature is not static. Not anywhere. Amongst the concerns of the self-proclaimed ‘Protectors of Nativeness’ are changes wrought upon ‘iconic landscapes’, of which, in the case of the inland South Island, lupins are not a ‘natural’ part.
In fact, neither is the very geography in which they are flourishing. The open, arid, rock-and-tussock vistas for which the interior of the Mainland is renowned, were actually Totara forest as recently as 2,000 years ago. Massive fires, blamed on early moa hunters but probably caused by meteorites, brought about the changed panorama we know today.
These ‘conservationists’ claim that lupins invade nesting grounds on riverbanks and islands, providing cover for predators from which native birds would otherwise be safe. Two things stand out in opposition to that, in the clinical light of observation; one, the native birds are still here, even after 70+ years of lupins, and two, before the lupins and the stoats arrived, birds nesting on bare river islands would have been fair game for native birds of prey. (Yes, New Zealand did have predators before the Europeans arrived with new ones in train. Every ecosystem in the world has, and needs, predators.)
Nothing about the New Zealand of today is the same as it was before Maori arrived, let alone Europeans.
New Zealand today has pine trees, and hence a forestry industry. It has lucerne, and rye grass, and clover, without which it wouldn’t have sheep, beef, or dairy.
There are macrocarpas and cypresses, without which there’d be no shelterbelts, or the habitats they provide for native birds and bugs.
Willow trees, poplars, apples, pears, plums, peaches, nectarines, grapevines, olives, roses, cabbages and spuds – all of them introduced, none of them ‘native’, but all of them, unarguably, an inherent and completely naturalized part of the landscape and the environment – just like cattle, sheep, horses, cats, dogs, and even people.
Then consider this; they are all natives of Planet Earth. And much of New Zealand’s oft-touted “unique” scenery isn’t remotely unique at all. Anyone who has traveled, knows that lots of North America, half of South America, and most of Central Asia looks largely identical.
Maybe that’s the answer – the poisoners who hide behind an impossible ideological agenda, just need to get out a bit more. The past is gone, and it’s never coming back; and the future will be different again.
We need to do better where the environment is concerned, that much is a given. But this will not be achieved by heaping hate and poison on ‘selected’ plants and organisms, purely because they have the misfortune to exist on the wrong side of some line on a map.