Tough call: fur seals versus muttonbirds
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.