Meet the new CEO

July 11, 2022 3:25 pm

Rob Forlong starts today as the new CEO of Predator Free 2050 Limited. He has recently completed seven years as Chief Executive of Whangārei District Council, where he contributed to Whangārei becoming a significant metropolitan local authority with strong population and economic growth, and enhanced relationships with Iwi/Hapū.


Before that, Rob was the first Chief Executive of the Environmental Protection Authority, establishing the EPA in 2011, and was also the Chief Executive of the Environmental Risk Management Authority from 2005 to 2011.

We sat down with Rob to find out a bit more about him.

So what attracted you to the role?
There’s always been a strong environmental thread running through my career, and in fact I started out as a Coastal and Marine Conservation Officer for DOC in Otago in the late 1980s. It was a great job, I got to rescue whales, do underwater surveys off Otago peninsula and keep tabs on the local seal population. I’ll never forget the night I spent on Green Island, off the coast of Dunedin. I couldn’t sleep a wink because of the noise of all the seabirds returning home at all hours of the night. It was magnificent. So I feel like I’m coming full circle leading change for the environment.

In the mid 1990s when I was with the Wellington Regional Council I oversaw the resource consent that DOC obtained to clear Kapiti Island of predators. I remember thinking at the time that it didn’t seem realistic. However, DOC were successful and later on I got to visit the Island and see for myself the huge number and variety of birds as well as the healthy bush. That experience made me an instant convert to the kaupapa.

From my time at WDC, I saw first-hand the difference that the Predator Free Whangārei project was making to the landscape, both in terms of restoring habitat for native birds and other species, and also bringing the community together around a shared goal.

The project was also doing a great job of partnering with iwi and hapu. I see these projects striving to be a model of best practice when it comes to engagement as well as execution. When you consider the reach of the Company, there are 19 large landscape scale projects up and down the country, and dozens of research projects and products underway, so you’re talking about a potentially huge impact on reaching the Predator Free 2050 goal.

Like most Kiwis, I’ve been really passionate about getting out into nature ever since I was little. I’m lucky in that I currently live pretty much in the bush, so I get to see our native wildlife every day, and I see this as a great way to make a meaningful contribution to protecting te taiao, for our children and future generations to come.

Do you think the Predator Free goal is achievable?
You bet it is. It won’t be easy – but if anyone can do it Aotearoa can. We have the expertise, and the commitment to be world leaders at restoring our environment.

We’re already seeing huge progress with both eradication and research and tool development, so I’m confident it’s a worthwhile undertaking. For example, Waiheke Island is on track to eradicate stoats by June 2023 and Hawke’s Bay is on track to eradicate possums by December 2022 across the Māhia Peninsula (14,000 ha).

The way these projects are set up gives them the best chance of success, getting the whole community on board. That’s what we will need in order to get there. We’re particularly pleased with the way that projects have either partnered with iwi or been iwi-led in some places, connecting us to that depth of traditional knowledge of the land. Māori are very important partners under the Treaty and we are strongly committed to working with them to achieve the Predator Free 2050 goal.

Where will you be based?
I’ve lived in Whangarei since 2015 and my family is based here. Luckily the organisation has fully embraced hybrid and remote working since Covid-19 first appeared, and has staff based up and down the country. I’ll be in the Auckland office regularly and also hope to get out and about to meet projects in my first few months on the job.

What do you bring to this role?
My deep love for the natural environment of Aotearoa, first of all, and also my experience in strategic leadership, and a collaborative approach working with many different groups, particularly mana whenua. There are so many passionate people in the predator free community. 2050 is getting closer all the time, and we’re all going to need to work together to achieve the goal. It’s as much about people as it is about the tools and techniques, and I’m looking forward to being part of the nationwide Predator Free team.

More from Around the traps