I apologise to CB readers for the unusually low frequency of posts this month. With the International Congress for Conservation Biology taking up a lot of my time earlier this month, and the standard palaver of xmas preparations (i.e., getting shit done before the end of the year), I’m afraid the blog has taken a back seat. Now officially ‘on leave’ (whatever that means for an academic), I have found a brief window during which I can put a few thoughts together.
For this post I must take you back to October 2011 when, if you were in Australia, you might have heard about the so-called ‘debacle‘ of the Macquarie Island rabbit/rate/mouse-eradication programme in which it was identified that a few thousand seabirds had become the collateral damage.
To recap, an intense poisoning programme was initiated on subantarctic Macquarie Island to eradicate these pests after years of massive environmental degradation had finally forced the government’s (of Tasmania and the Commonwealth) hand to do something. What caught my eye in all this was the sheer stupidity and politicking associated with the programme, in which hyper-conservative Eric Abetz (Liberal Senator for Tasmania) managed to turn this amazing success into a Labor-bashing political sledge-hammer.
Abetz is no stranger to anti-environmentalism and fights vehemently for Tasmania’s forest-raping industry; he considers political parties such as the Greens, environmental groups such as The Wilderness Society and pro-democracy groups such as Get Up! his mortal enemies. He’s even had a go at esteemed author Richard Flanagan for supporting the anti-deforestation movement in Tasmania!
His latest regurgitation of spectacularly uninformed and politically motivated, anti-environmental vomit couldn’t have missed the point more on the Macquarie Island feral eradication programme. Most would agree that despite our general failing of biodiversity conservation, conservation biologists have had a fair share of major wins with island pest eradications; indeed, at times it seems the only thing we can get right is killing the baddies we were originally responsible for introducing.
Now, I’m no fan of the Tasmanian legislators and government drones who for years delayed or severely under-appreciated science to inform sound environmental policy when it came to Macquarie Island (indeed, I would go so far as to say that the established environmental autocracy in the Tasmanian government is one of the principal enemies of conservation because of their entrenched anti-science stance), but for once, they finally got around to doing something good with this ~ million-dollar programme.
And I have some history there too – I was stationed on Macquarie Island over 4 years from 1999-2004 during my postdoctoral fellowship, during which time I worked on many aspects of elephant seal population and behavioural ecology (see associated publications here). In my last year there, I was shocked upon my return to the island after an 18-month stint back in mainland Australia about just how much damage the rabbits had done after the last cat had been shot a few years before. I was so moved that I wrote a popular article on the matter to bring it to the public’s attention – you can read that article (published in Australasian Science) here for more background information.
For the ultra-right wing Senator Abetz to turn this success into his own political poisoned arrow is, to be perfectly honest, an environmental crime in its own right. Using the weak argument that some protected species have suffered as a consequence is the classic tool of the so-called ‘environmentalists’ who would rather focus on a single species (or even individual) while the rest of biodiversity melts into extinction (see related post here). We just don’t have time for this nonsense, and this is why we have to consider uncomfortable choices such as triage and controversial energy-generation technology.
I’m not for a moment insinuating that Senator Abetz truly feels for the poor seabirds who had the misfortune of swallowing a bit of poisoned bait in the quest to return their island to its former pristine biodiversity greatness; rather, I think he used the weak and uninformed argument for his own political gains (a double travesty). We have to move past this double-dipped bullshit if we want to make some real gains for biodiversity in Australia.