New Zealand’s most ambitious predator free project launched
March 11, 2021 1:37 pm
New Zealand’s largest and most ambitious predator free project will provide a pathway towards the country’s goal of being predator free by 2050.
The $45m Predator Free South Westland project was launched today in Franz Josef. Over five years it aims to eliminate possums, rats and stoats from a 100,000 hectare area bounded by the Whataroa and Waiau (Waiho) Rivers, the Southern Alps and Tasman Sea. The project area includes bush, rural land and the townships of Whataroa, Okarito and Franz Josef.
The project is a partnership between the people of South Westland, Te Rūnanga o Makaawhio, Jobs for Nature, Department of Conservation, Predator Free 2050 Limited, OSPRI and the NEXT Foundation.
“This is a massive investment in the future of South Westland,” says Predator Free South Westland Chair and former Federated Farmers president Katie Milne. “The project will not only protect and restore nature, it will create employment opportunities and help sustain our community. Once possums are eliminated the threat of bovine tuberculosis will be gone forever – that’s huge for farmers and the economy,” she says.
So far, the project has employed 18 people in South Westland, including some who previously worked in the tourism industry. Up to 50 jobs are expected to be generated over the five years of the project.
Eliminating pests will protect New Zealand’s rarest kiwi – the rowi – along with many other rare and threatened species, including kōtuku (white heron), kea, and the recently rediscovered Ōkārito gecko.
Mark Davies, DOC’s Director of Operations for the Western South Island, says it will be a team effort with iwi, hapū, whānau, technical experts, scientists, and the community taking on a project that we would have thought impossible 10 years ago. “The difference for our native wildlife will be immense – our taonga species such as rowi which have been brought back from the edge of extinction will be able to thrive in the absence of predators,” he says.
Predator Free South Westland will build on a proven formula. Zero Invasive Predators (ZIP) has already successfully removed possums, stoats and rats from approximately 12,000 hectares in the Perth River Valley which borders the new project area.
NEXT Foundation Environmental Advisor Devon McLean says ZIP now has a strong track record of eliminating invasive predators from mainland sites. “We’re very excited by the opportunity to work with the South Westland community to demonstrate that predator freedom at this scale is achievable. It’ll be a big undertaking, but we are up for the collective challenge.”
Predator Free 2050 Limited CEO Abbie Reynolds says if we can do this in South Westland we can achieve this anywhere in New Zealand.
“Restoring biodiversity and building careers in conservation will create an important legacy for the West Coast. We are delighted to support the people of South Westland and Te Rūnanga o Makaawhio alongside the other project partners.”
In addition to safeguarding native species, the elimination of possums, rats and stoats from South Westland is expected to bring an end to the ongoing widespread use of aerial 1080 to control these predators within the region.