Environmental Attitudes to Pest Control

The control of pest animals is as much about the attitudes of people to pests, and how those pests are controlled, as it is about the ecology of their impacts. Whereas some people may want to introduce game animals to establish hunting, at the very same time other people may want to eradicate them to protect forests, such as the case in Hawaii. Many introduced species exist with such a duality, in New Zealand ever since the first Acclimatisation Societies began introducing animals in the 1860s. The results of a national survey I compiled have just been published in the Journal of the Royal Society of New Zealand. In 2012 I randomly surveyed by mail the attitudes of nearly one thousand New Zealanders to introduced animals and their control, and by using the exact same questions as previously surveyed in 1994, I was also able to compare how attitudes had changed over nearly twenty years. The results of such a survey have major implications for programmes such as PFNZ and ZIP which are looking to scale-up the control of pest species across New Zealand.

Rat taking fantail chick from nest (Photo: David Mudge DOC)

The results of the study were enlightening. Less than 1% felt ‘nothing should be done’ was an appropriate choice for pest control, and half felt introduced species affected them directly. Over 95% supported feral cat control. Over the past 20 years in New Zealand there has been a major shift in perceptions from large herbivores (deer, etc) to small predators (rodents and mustelids) as the major pest species, but at the same time support for the use of 1080 poison is today equally divided, although with 20% of the population undecided. Today, more ‘creepy crawly’ species such as bats and weta now rate alongside iconic birds such as kiwi and takahe as wanting to be seen in the wild. The major general conclusion of the study was that future pest management will need to be situational and utilise mixed management methods appropriate to different demographics and stakeholders. Overall, New Zealand benefits from the utilitarian (rather than protectionist) perspective which is taken in pest control. If you’re interested in a copy of the study please drop me a line and I’ll be happy to send an electronic reprint.

Conservation biologist Dr. James Russell works throughout the world on remote islands and other sites to provide conservation solutions by applying a combination of scientific methods. Follow James on National Geographic voices for regular updates on his own work or other exciting developments in island conservation.
  • Tim Curtis

    I think people go to extreme sometimes with the idea of environmentally safe. No pesticide is safe. There are pests that need to be eliminated because of their threat to people and pest that are beneficial to the environment. http://abugguy.com

  • Brad

    Natural pest control is always a good thing but sometimes responsible use of a chemical treatment is the best answer.

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