Tough call: fur seals ver­sus mut­ton­birds

Sunday Star-Times - - NEWS - Jonathan Milne

We all care about con­ser­va­tion. We put stick­ers on our cars, plant na­tive grasses on the verge, or sign pe­ti­tions to pro­tect kauri forests.

That’s good. But it’s easy to care – it’s far more dif­fi­cult to make the tough de­ci­sions.

This week, con­ser­va­tion of­fi­cials are to meet Rak­iura Ma¯ ori to dis­cuss their call to con­trol pro­tected kekeno (fur seals) on the 21 Tı¯tı¯ Is­lands where their peo­ple have har­vested mut­ton­bird chicks for gen­er­a­tions be­yond mem­ory.

Af­ter vis­it­ing Ste­wart Is­land last year, I learnt that nei­ther is now en­dan­gered. The kekeno have re­cov­ered from the dev­as­ta­tion of seal­ing; the tı¯tı¯ bird pop­u­la­tion is vast. What is en­dan­gered is the unique cul­tural prac­tice of mut­ton­bird­ing. The Tı¯tı¯ Is­lands chair­man wants to be able to ‘‘con­trol’’ the seals. That means a tar­geted cull, or new tech­nolo­gies to keep the kekeno at bay. Cue the out­cry from the arm­chair en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists, alarmed at the idea of baby seals be­ing clubbed to death.

But con­ser­va­tion is about manag­ing en­tire ecosys­tems. So this is not a de­ci­sion for the tech­nocrats alone. It’s not a de­ci­sion for Rak­iura Ma¯ ori alone. This is a con­ser­va­tion de­ci­sion in which we all have a stake.

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