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Capitalism = Conservation

Capitalism = Conservation

Gerry Eckhoff: Speech to World Freedom Summit; Rotorua; Saturday July 24, 2004

Governments in New Zealand consider themselves "humanitarian managers" of the nation.

They consider you and I so hopeless that, left to our own devices, we would perish. We need direction, management, and instructions on how to live our lives under their wise and omniscient guidance.

After all mummy knows best.

They do not understand the idea of a government whose role is one of governance and not management.

Where government sets out the rules so that markets and individuals can operate freely; where each person can use their god given gifts of intelligence and imagination to make life better for themselves and their fellow New Zealanders.

They micro manage our lives not from any sense of duty or selfless sacrifice. No - they do the hard work of gouging billions of dollars out of their fellow citizens to rule every action of every waking day simply so that they can ingratiate themselves with the voters and thereby get back into office.

Health and education are wonderful examples of centralised bureaucratic failures. The fact that private participation almost assures success seems to have escaped their attention

So of course the environment has proved to be a wonderful boon for government by meddling.

Governments find enormous electoral advantage using taxpayers' money to "control" the environment. They consistently steal the private rights of individuals under the excuse of managing the environment more sensibly

This grab, control and squander policy has reached ludicrous proportions in wildlife management.

Here again, the successful efforts of individual New Zealanders are matched by a corresponding and continuing government failure.

The Government's view of wildlife management is that it's better being dead than privately bred.

A very wise man once observed, "at nature's banquet table there are no reserved seats".

There's plenty of room for those species we would regard as privatised or domesticated, but increasingly little room for what is described as wildlife. In other words, species not owned - except perhaps by default - by the Crown or government.

There is a rather romantic notion that it is more natural, and therefore more moral, to allow wildlife to roam open in bush or tussock country, despite our certain knowledge that such a practise will ultimately ensure its demise - in New Zealand especially.

Personally, I have never believed that nature herself is pure and balanced in all she does. I have failed to understand the morality of a stoat killing a kiwi chick, just because it can, rather than for food.

The balance in nature was lost in New Zealand many years ago with the introduction of mastilids, possums and rabbits.

The battle to redress their devastating impact on our biodiversity is never ending and is now only possible with the help of human intervention.

And with that intervention came a new ethos - conservation and preservation became the new religion of the middle class. Saving all manner of species became a badge of honour. A person doesn't actually have to do anything, you understand, merely agree that such things were important and that `somebody' should do something.

Enter the Conservation Department - which rapidly became something of a Nirvana for all manner of well-meaning folk who believed in saving things for future generations.

Whether these future generations wanted the species saved for them is not the point, we just assume they will. And who better to do the job than a Government department? Please note my voice fairly dripping with sarcasm.

DOC, since its inception in 1989, has enshrined in law and practise that private participation and commerce in saving our indigenous wildlife is not just downright unattractive, but illegal.

In doing so, DOC effectively placed itself above the laws of nature, economics and common sense. Conserving New Zealand's endangered species has become institutionalised and monopolised by government decree. Nature herself gave no such proxy to governments.

Many New Zealanders today regard DOC stewardship as little more than benign neglect - expensive at $300 million per annum, but neglect nevertheless.

There appears to be a complete blockage in officialdom to the concept of commercial participation by those landowners - willing and able to play a role in the wildlife survival business.

In every aspect of modern life private solutions are available to problems.

Why cannot this principle apply to wildlife conservation as well?

I look at the sale of farm produce that is plentiful - beef, lamb, chicken and pork. There is no mystery why there is a surplus.

It's worth the time and effort for people to foster and increase the wellbeing and numbers of these species.

Then look at the numbers of wildlife in New Zealand. The numbers are in freefall.

I see the huge success of one system: private ownership and trade. Then, I look at the failure of another system: public ownership and trade bans.

If trade works for so-called exotic introduced species like sheep and cattle, why should it not work for indigenous species?

If a highly valued sheep or cattle beast is exported in comfort and security to some foreign clime to breed happily - while increasing the gene pool in that country - then what's the problem?

So why not the kea, kaka, kakapo or kiwi?

Should farmers make a few dollars on the way, then I imagine that would certainly encourage them to protect a very nice income source.

Believe it or not, they may even create the perfect habitat to assist nature in the propagation of that species and then on sell it to the world. At the moment to do so is illegal

Why? Being exported in the animal equivalent of first class seat sure beat the heck out of being smuggled out stuffed inside a PVC pipe and injected with tranquillisers for the journey to the other side of the world!

In 2002, I gave a speech advocating the "farming" of our endangered species. That is applying the principles of security, husbandry, supplementing feeding and selective breeding.

Labour got hold of my speech and attempted a public roasting in the Debating Chamber. Most of the House enjoyed the Government's attempt at ridiculing my idea.

How, for example, would I farm Hectors dolphins? Would I free range or battery farm kiwis? Would not their beaks jam the cage door? All, including myself, had great fun.

It is an amazing feeling believing that you are right and the rest are wrong.

The Conservation Minister at the time - one Sandra Lee - (long since banished to some outer island) scathingly announced that I was the only MP since 1896 to suggest that private stewardship is a sound method of ensuring the survival of indigenous wildlife. My chest swelled with pride. Quite the opposite of what Ms Lee was hoping to achieve.

Ladies and Gentlemen, in New Zealand we farm whitebait - yes whitebait

Salmon, trout, deer, ostrich, ferrets, lobster are some of the more unusual species being farmed alongside our more traditional livestock, including sheep, cattle, pigs and goats - all with a high degree of success. New and improved management techniques ensure breeding success.

Meanwhile, back on the public estate, failure has become a relative term - broken only by the rare glimmer of success. By comparison with the dodo, we have been relatively successful. In the interests of balance during this presentation, I was hoping to inform you of real successes of government in this area.

I can't at this time.

Successive governments, alarmed by their inability to save any species, have turned their attention to privately owned habitat and issued directives that farmers must not destroy any indigenous vegetation. Sadly, they have overlooked issuing such directives at feral cats, dogs and stoats. The result - feral animals thousands, indigenous species nil.

The inevitable result of this "enlightened" policy is that no farmer seeks to grow indigenous vegetation, let alone encourages wildlife to establish itself on any commercial property.

My colleague, Stephen Franks, received a letter informing him of an "extinct" bird living on private land.

The landowner - fearing sanitisation by DOC - has remained silent, as the Minister would give no assuredness as to the future consequences of the discovery on the farming operation. No assurance - no information. The Americans call it "Shoot, shovel and shut up".

It gets worse. The native bat - a rare and endangered species - was offered sponsorship by way of research funding. Government refused the help. Why?

The company who generously offered to help fund research made coffins. It was all a bit much for the sensitive souls in DOC, who also turned down $4,000 for a kiwi - given to an American zoo - on the grounds that to accept a dollar sum would be to commercially value our native bird. This was unacceptable to the commissars in DOC and the Government.

However, progress is being made into the realisation that commerce is wildlife's only hope.

A survey during the 1990s showed that about 75,000 kiwis were still alive in New Zealand - down from estimates of 5,000,000 not so long ago. It is believed that by 2020, no kiwi will exist in the mainland, despite all the best efforts of the Crown's monopoly.

It is interesting to compare the ostrich, a new and farmed bird, has gone from nil to 10,000 in ten years. Why do we worry about the extinction of animals we don't eat, rarely see and that don't impact on our lives, but never worry about beef, lamb, duck, salmon or ostrich?

We do, of course, have a thriving trade in native plants. We propagate and sell for profit - we export them. More people are recognising the worth of indigenous vegetation's aesthetic appeal. One major exception. The Government won't allow the natural harvest of native timber for milling and therefore for profit. You can fell them for firewood, but not for furniture.

The natural consequence? No harvest, no planting. No blocks of native beech, for example, which has similar maturity to Douglas fir. No selective breeding of Rimu or Kauri to enhance growth rates.

Government is yet again denying sanity and commerce. Conservation Minister Chris Carter, in his criticism of me, stated that there are things more important than money.

He had just received $300 million of taxpayers' money to run his department. I really didn't know how to respond without resorting to ridicule. There are compelling reasons why private conservation must be embraced, and DOC is one of them!

The unstable nature of the environment is another. Example: heavy fruiting or masting of Rimu trees promotes an explosion in rat numbers which, in turn, leads to a similar effect on stoat numbers. Native birds then become their target. Climatic conditions vary from year to year which impacts on breeding potential.

Disease can often require removal from existing habitat - the Archies frog was all but wiped out due to a fungal disease.

Supplementary feeding can be essential in some difficult seasons to ensure survival. Again, all part of farming for success.

All need management and private stewardship to spread the risk if we truly believe retention of our wildlife is desirable. Just two weeks ago, three kakapo died due to bacterial infection. Had they been spread between public and private ownership, then maybe those kakapo may not have died.

I would suggest therefore, that this recent experience with the kakapo illustrates that government control and ownership does not guarantee survival - possibly quite the opposite.

In the United States, the Environmental Protection Agency recently announced the removal of 10 species from the critically endangered list - no drums or fanfare. The 10 had become extinct, despite the resources of the wealthiest nation on earth.

I would further suggest that the politics of the environment matters more to some people than the environment itself. Julian Simon, at the Earth Day Conference, said that he "hoped intellectual error accounted for the politics of the environmental establishment". He would no longer accept such excuses. These people, he concluded, "were the enemy of humanity".

Such people seem to adhere to the socialist ideal of: better dead than privately bred.

Never mind our lack of achievement - look at our motives!

A few words on the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).

CITES's mission is to reduce or eliminate the exploitation of endangered species. I suspect the real problem is that we don't exploit them enough!

I, as a farmer, constantly exploit the breeding potential of my sheep and cattle.

The Government constantly seeks to exploit the international trade and sale of my sheep and cattle to encourage greater production and greater returns for New Zealand. To my certain knowledge, no one has ever suggested that international trade does anything other than increase the numbers of a desired species worldwide. Yet CITES seeks to halt trade in species we supposedly value the most. Show a farmer a dollar and he'll find a way of doubling it and the species involved.

Wildlife management by private stewardship offers wonderful opportunities to both the farmer and the farmed.

A large number of studies have shown that wildlife management is the highest value use for non-arable land in South Africa.

I'm sure that would apply to many other countries if only governments were kept in the cage or behind wire - not the species. The Southern African Sustainable Use Specialist Group concluded that South Africa's State-protected areas were failing to conserve biodiversity, financially unsustainable and irrelevant to 95 percent of people where they were located. Sound familiar? This creation of parks and reserves is seen as a crude attempt by governments to capture land and resources for the public good, when neither the public, nor the good, have been defined. If biological diversity and economic growth are the outcomes we seek, why just employ the mechanisms of the State?

It is reported in South Africa that where full rights and control over wildlife have been granted to landowners, biodiversity is better conserved in areas surrounding national parks, than in the parks themselves. In other words, I am more likely to succeed in saving the species I concentrate my resources on, than trying to save hundreds with resources supplied by the State. Despite what we know, perverse thinking by governments still prevails.

Examples: The Himalayan Thar is a highly endangered animal in its natural environment of Nepal. Its survival is assured in New Zealand, but only if the Government agency charged with retention and advocacy of biodiversity changes its unspoken policy of total destruction of the Himalayan Thar in our country.

I have always failed to understand the logic of advocating for biodiversity and the natural environment, but only in the country of origin.

I received a letter suggesting the highly endangered snow leopard be introduced into New Zealand.

The snow leopard is a shy, retiring animal, which is also highly endangered. It has been proposed that it be introduced to the South Island high country. Worthy of consideration, I thought, but then sheep also live in the high country. I can imagine the reaction of farmers losing prime mutton on a weekly basis to a snow leopard, may well shorten the said leopards' life span.

This, of course, already happens to our famous kea: the mountain parrot. An entertaining bird, much admired for its plumage and cheeky disposition. However, high country farmers somewhat less admire it. The kea developed a taste for the fat surrounding the kidney of a sheep. After an attack, blood poisoning would inevitably kill the sheep. The farmer inevitably would kill the kea, but consider this: the sheep is worth at best $150, the kea to a bird fancier in Europe: $30,000.

If the law allowed, farmers would be exporting keas, not shooting them!

In Australia, we have the ludicrous spectacle of farmers shooting galahs and parrots to keep them of their wheat. You see a million dollars worth of "pests" feeding on a $50,000 dollar wheat field. Yet these clowns are shooting the million dollars and leaving it on the side of the road!

If they were farming galahs and were able to ship a few of these pests abroad, they could rest their farms in the droughts that prevail over a large part of the country. If you could sell cockatoos and parrots they would never be endangered.

We in New Zealand should be hand-rearing keas, as I'm certain a bird fancier's aviary in Paris is closer to a kea's idea of heaven, than having its plumage parted by an irate farmer on the end of a 12-gauge shotgun.

If people wish to rebut the belief in private conservation as a means to ensure the survival of the species let them do so with factual and rational arguments.

What we are faced with is a form of socialist nonsense. - It makes no sense, and is based on prejudice and the old fashioned shibboleth that the State knows best. I reject that prejudice and mindless pursuit of expensive failure out of hand.

Julian Simon once said that the world remains bright only by individuals constantly lighting and relighting the flame of truth.

The crux of the matter is this: freedom breeds success in every sphere.

If you and I were free to raise wildlife in humane conditions, then there would be no shortage of any of it. We would strive to care for our flocks as we do our sheep. We would see they were healthy, and breeding to their potential.

It is the stranglehold of "big brother" or, more currently, "big sister" who stops enterprise and initiative.

In the preservation of wildlife, freedom matters, because it allows the people at the coalface to devise solutions from a wider base of information. More ideas can come to the table.

These can be tried and, if they fail, we can learn from those mistakes and move on - as has been the case in animal husbandry for over 7000 years.

Were we free to exercise our craft skill and intelligence, people who love wildlife and wish to see it flourish would spend their money, thereby creating the conditions in which it could flourish. Good intelligent ordinary Kiwis whose goals were the preservation of wildlife could find a thousand ways to solve every problem.

The contrast with well-meaning Government officials filling out monthly reports could not be starker.

For even the most dedicated officer of the department must ask themselves occasionally - as failure follows on failure - is there a better way?

Ladies and gentlemen there is.

What is needed is what I said in the beginning: governments must set out the rules so that markets and individuals can operate freely.

Further, governments must set rules of humane treatment, transport and animal health remedies.

We must also remove governments' destructive monopoly on the care of wildlife - where it is failing so miserably. Let every Kiwi get stuck in and apply our energy and intelligence to wildlife husbandry - not just boffins, bureaucrats and politicians.

I would like to conclude by sharing with you all something I have believed all my life. For wildlife, as for everything else, nothing thrives unless it is free.

Thank you.

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