Possums, stoats, rats…
October 23 2018 by Christina McCabe
Possums, stoats, rats… Mammalian predator control in New Zealand is unreservedly a wicked problem. A difficult, messy and expensive problem involving competing reasonable goals with conﬂicting agendas and moral opinions. As long as the ethical disagreements remain, there’ll be no solution that is perfect for everyone. Attempts are merely better or worse than the next. How do we decide what is better or worse? Usually we make these judgments without even thinking about it, as a result of criteria inherently sustained, also known as our morals. With so many different ethical views and criteria on the table, which should we follow when making decisions about control methods?
The utilitarian’s morals? The basis of these ethics is: the greater good wins. Possums, stoats and rats far outweigh the precious endemic birdlife they feast on, so they are the majority and deserve to live, right? However, the utilitarian considers the entire ecosystem and potential consequences on the inﬁnite sum of wildlife, plant life and effects on humanity – clearly trumping a few abundant species of mammal. If a species is under threat, it adds to the weight of the argument; the impact on dependent young and other issues are also considered. If we follow this ethic, we might suggest anything which achieves pest eradication, including sodium ﬂuoroacetate (1080), is the right course of action.
Do we follow the deontologist’s morals? These ethics hold ﬁrm beliefs of what is right and wrong – more interested in the actions than the consequences. For example, you might believe it’s wrong to interfere with genetics, including bio-engineering possums to reproduce only males, eventually breeding themselves out of the game… trapping and toxins like 1080 start to look like ethically better options. There is also a duty involved with doing the right thing: as humans brought the pests here, do we now have a responsibility to get rid of them? Or is the principlist’s moral criteria the one to follow? The one that says no living creature should be harmed and one is not worth more than another. This ethical model might propose we walk away from attempts to control the invasive predators extending their domain in New Zealand’s forests, gradually collapsing habitats and ecosystems. Principlist ethics also say it is wrong to mistreat DOC staff who are only doing their job, and you can’t have your cake and eat it too.
We may never completely eradicate the furry foes now calling New Zealand home, but we certainly won’t make a lot of progress toward representing and satisfying everyone’s moral ground if we can’t unite. Let’s ﬁnd a different criteria for deciding which methods are better than others: a tailored ethical framework for this wicked problem. It’s going to require open dialogue and open minds to get there. When we pose the difficult and passionate questions or opinions about 1080 to each other, we need to be willing to listen to the responses – all of them.
Designer, Student (BSc Environmental Science)
If you would like more information on 1080, what it is, its history in NZ, why its used and what are the risks, we have a Fact Box with the details on Page 16