20 Jul 2015: Analysis

Alien Islands: Why Killing Rats
Is Essential to Save Key Wildlife

Alien rats introduced by ships are decimating populations of birds and other wildlife on islands from the sub-Antarctic to California. Effective programs to eradicate the rats are underway but are encountering opposition from animal activists and some green groups.

by ted williams

Earlier this year a major victory appears to have been won in the ongoing battle to resurrect island ecosystems and, in the process, save otherwise doomed species. It was achieved not by manipulating habitat or introducing native species, but by killing aliens — rats.

In late March “Team Rat” — composed of eradication experts from around the world — completed a five-year baiting program on British-owned South
South Georgia Island rat poison
Tony Martin
A Team Rat technician fills a baiting bucket on South Georgia Island in the southern Atlantic.
Georgia Island in the southern Atlantic.

Before rats arrived on ships of 18th-century seal hunters, South Georgia Island had sustained 27 species of seabirds in the world’s greatest concentration. But the invaders feasted on eggs and hatchlings, eliminating an estimated 90 percent of all birds on this sub-Antarctic island. By the 21st century, the South Georgia pipit, a terrestrial species found nowhere else on earth, was headed for almost-certain extinction.

The Team Rat project dwarfed all rodent eradications previously attempted. The island’s 1,450-square-mile surface is strewn with jagged, ice-bound peaks, 11 of them over 6,500 feet. What’s more, Team Rat — put together by the South Georgia Heritage Trust — was racing global warming. Glaciers kept rats out of large sections, but these barriers were melting rapidly. Two glaciers had already been lost, allowing the infestation to spread. Without the remaining glaciers, the northern and southern coasts would be united, and surviving birds would be history.

It will be another two years before Team Rat can positively declare the island rodent-free, but the prognosis couldn’t look better. Surviving glaciers sealed off three sections that could be treated independently. Birds are already recovering in sections completed in 2011 and 2013; and careful monitoring has revealed no sign of rats. In January 2015 the first successful nest of the South Georgia pipit was discovered in the 2013 section. At this writing, the project appears to be humanity’s first success in saving a species from the effects of global warming.

More than 80 percent of some 500 island rodent eradications have been conducted by eight nations — New Zealand, Australia, France, Mexico,
Rats have been responsible for an estimated 40 to 60 percent of extinctions of island birds and reptiles.
Seychelles, Ecuador, the U.K., and the United States. Now with global warming, the pressure is on as never before. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist Beth Flint, who recently helped recover the rat-destroyed ecosystem of Palmyra Atoll National Wildlife Refuge 1,000 miles south of Hawaii, says the international environmental community needs to start thinking about islands that will be wiped out by sea-level rise or more intense storms. The time may come, she warns, when we’ll have to move species to islands with more temperate climates or higher elevations.

There are plenty of islands sufficiently high and sufficiently situated to serve as refuges for wildlife threatened by global warming. But rodent infestations are most common on high, temperate islands because they are the most likely to have been colonized by humans.

Historically, wherever humans have traveled by sea, rats and mice have accompanied them. Two thousand years ago rodent stowaways on Polynesian vessels infested Pacific islands. More recently, the plague spread to all the world’s oceans. And birds weren’t the only victims. The aliens eliminated reptiles, invertebrates, whole forests, and other plant
South Georgia Island brown rat
Paula O Sullivan
A brown rat on South Georgia Island, target of a successful five-year eradication effort.
communities along with the seeds and fruits that had sustained native wildlife. Ecosystems lay in ruins.

Despite the fact that islands comprise only three percent of the planet’s landmass, 95 percent of all known bird extinctions occur on them. According to The Nature Conservancy, a world leader in rodent eradication, rats alone have been responsible for an estimated 40 to 60 percent of recorded extinctions of island birds and reptiles.



To recover South Georgia’s ecosystem, Team Rat needed a nuke. Fortunately, it had one in brodifacoum — an anticoagulant that inhibits production of vitamin K, thereby causing rodents to bleed out internally. This second-generation rodenticide was registered in the U.K. in 1978 after rats built immunity to the first-generation version, warfarin — the same agent doctors prescribe to thin human blood. Team Rat dropped tons of brodifacoum-laced bait from helicopters.

Unlike its first-generation ancestors, brodifacoum is lethal to rodents when ingested just once. And because it’s slow-acting, rodents don’t associate it with danger. They carry bait into otherwise inaccessible caves and crevices, hoarding and sharing it. Word gets out fast that it is delicious and safe.

Before 1978 rodent eradication, except on the tiniest islands, had been unthinkable. A year later New Zealanders were deploying brodifacoum
Brodifacoum can cause secondary poisonings when non-target species like raptors eat dead rodents.
with stunning success. When biologists Rowley Taylor and Bruce Thomas declared that brodifacoum could clear rats from the huge (by those early standards), 22-acre forest island of Hawea, their boss at the New Zealand Department of Science and Industrial Research dismissed the notion as “impossible” and “f***ing crazy.” When Taylor and Thomas pulled it off, the world took note.

Brodifacoum poses little danger to marine life because it’s insoluble in water. But it can cause secondary poisonings when non-target species like gulls and raptors eat dead and dying rodents. While wildlife managers have learned to minimize such “bykill,” they can’t eliminate it. Loss of a few individuals is the price for recovering island ecosystems and saving entire species from extinction. In virtually all cases there is no effective tool other than brodifacoum. And in all cases populations of non-target victims bounce back.



But recovery of island wildlife is being hampered by brodifacoum’s vile reputation, a reputation acquired by gross public abuse on mainlands where it routinely kills or sickens dogs, cats, and wild animals. So brodifacoum is a favorite target of animal-rights activists and the global environmental community.

On March 31, barely a week after rodent eradication had wrapped up on South Georgia Island, the last pelletized brodifacoum bait available to the U.S. public (sold as d-Con) was taken off the market by its manufacturer, Reckitt-Benckiser. As early as 2008 the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency had declared brodifacoum an “unreasonable risk” to children, pets, and wildlife when used in pellet form by the public (not by wildlife managers). Other companies voluntarily took brodifacoum off the market, but Reckitt-Benckiser refused, tying up further action by the EPA with appeals and litigation. Finally, in May 2014, it signed an agreement with the EPA, rendering moot the agency’s Notice of Intent to Cancel issued the previous year.

Brodifacoum harms pets and wildlife only because in many nations the public flings crude commercial formulations around like confetti — not because professional wildlife managers treat islands with short-lived
Rachel Carson had no problem with short-lived poisons deployed against invasive exotics.
formulations carefully designed for each situation.

Nowhere is there a shortage of opposition to brodifacoum use on islands, but it’s loudest in the U.S. This may be because so many Americans have misread Rachel Carson’s book “Silent Spring,” which precipitated the U.S. ban on DDT and its relatives. Carson, a biologist, had no problem with short-lived poisons deployed against invasive exotics; and if she were alive today she would be an ardent supporter of alien rodent eradication.

Serious public opposition in the U.S. started back in 2001. That’s when Island Conservation (a non-profit group specializing in ridding islands around the world of alien invaders), the National Park Service, and other partners set about clearing black rats from Anacapa Island, part of a national park off southern California. Litigation delayed the project. Typical comments in op-eds and letters to the editor collected by William Stolzenburg and reported in his 2013 book Rat Island included: “Who are humans to call other species invasive?” and “Species go extinct all the time.” Park rangers were obliged to arm themselves and wear bulletproof vests. Just before the first bait application, field crews observed two men jump out of an inflatable boat and start tossing pellets, later found to contain vitamin K — brodifacoum’s antidote.

Before rats disembarked from the grounded paddle steamer Winfield Scott in 1853, Anacapa Island had been a haven for nesting seabirds. Unlike most other islands it sustained a native rodent, the Anacapa deer mouse. Managers captured as many native mice as they could before treatment, then released them after the brodifacoum had degraded. There was limited bykill of birds and uncaptured deer mice. But populations of all non-target victims swiftly recovered; and today the island is again pumping out seabirds. Nesting success for the imperiled Scripps’s murrelet, for example, is up 400 percent. And ashy storm-petrels, classified as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, are nesting on the island for the first time in recorded history. Still, brodifacoum use by wildlife professionals remains controversial, especially in the U.S.

Environmental activist Maggie Sergio of Fairfax, California is arguably the planet’s most energetic critic of brodifacoum use on islands no matter the
Who are humans to call other species invasive?’ asked an opponent of a rat eradication project.
situation or ocean. Four years ago, while she was employed by WildCare — a wildlife rehabilitation outfit in San Rafael, California, that treats sick and injured animals, including alien pests like house mice — she started an online petition to cancel a house-mouse eradication project on the Farallon Islands, a national wildlife refuge 28 miles seaward of San Francisco and site of the largest seabird colony in the sub-Alaskan U.S.

This “crime against nature,” as Sergio calls it, is planned by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. About half the ashy storm-petrels in the world nest on the Farallones, and one of the agency’s main goals is to save the species from extinction. With her petition, frequent posts on the website of a group she co-founded called Island Watch, and articles in the Huffington Post, Sergio has generated sufficient opposition from the animal rights community, the general public, and the City of San Francisco to place the project in doubt.

As of mid-July nearly 33,000 people from multiple nations had signed Sergio’s petition. Among its copious false statements is the claim that in 2008 Island Conservation dropped “40 tons of brodifacoum” on Rat

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Island, off southwestern Alaska.

There isn’t enough brodifacoum in the world to drop 40 tons anywhere. What really happened is that Island Conservation, partnered with the Fish and Wildlife Service and The Nature Conservancy, dropped 41 ounces of brodifacoum on Rat Island — this for the entire 6,861 acres. The rodenticide was mixed with 46 metric tons of grain bait. Such is the brodifacoum’s lethality. If you use anything else, the chance of failure increases exponentially; and all it takes to fail is survival of two rodents of the opposite sex or one pregnant female.

An unprecedented early snowfall covered and preserved the bait, and bald eagles, off their routine of feeding on distant salmon, ate the rats. So the bykill price was exceptionally steep — 422 birds, including 46 eagles and 320 glaucous-winged gulls. That’s why the project is invariably the first cited by opponents. But even on Rat Island the permanent dividends far exceeded the temporary investment. An enormous assemblage of native bird species absent or nearly so for 230 years are nesting again; a rat-made desert has exploded with native vegetation; and populations of non-target victims are thriving.

Today the island goes by its original Aleut name, Hawadax, which translates, appropriately enough, to “Welcome.”



POSTED ON 20 Jul 2015 IN Biodiversity Business & Innovation Energy Policy & Politics Pollution & Health Africa Central & South America Europe 

COMMENTS


I'm troubled by this story. First of all, the author is described as an avid hunter. These days, the only reason to hunt is for "recreational" purposes -- not survival -- which sets off all kinds of alarm bells for me. In addition, his blasé explanation regarding the poisoning of eagles, gulls, and other birds is offensive. I expect nothing less from a recreational killer.

I am not acquainted with WildCare or Maggie Sergio, but I can assure the author that many individuals including me agree with her point of view. Humans were responsible for facilitating the desecration of the island in the first place and once again are wreaking destruction through poisoning and extermination. It's the same old story of "conservation." Disgusting.
Posted by Pamela Williams on 20 Jul 2015


Almost always, opponents of lethal control are people with no background in biology. To them, a rat, a mouse, a house sparrow, and an endangered ashy storm-petrel are the same. They are not. We have a moral responsibility to preserve SPECIES, not individual animal lives. If we do nothing we lose WHOLE SPECIES. I know there are many that really don't care about that, but you can't call yourself an 'animal lover' if you are okay with a species disappearing. There is no shortage of non-native rats, mice, and cats. There are worldwide reductions in native species. If you advocate doing nothing, you are guilty. When your free-roaming cat kills a mockingbird, it rips it apart and leaves it suffering a horrible death. Because you don't see it, doesn't mean you are not guilty. Kudos to all those involved in island restoration. Keep up the great work!

Posted by Jim on 20 Jul 2015


Excellent article providing background information on invasive rats, the importance of islands for preserving seabirds and native biodiversity, and an important conservation tool (aerial broadcast of rodenticide).
Posted by John on 21 Jul 2015


Excellent article, indeed. As are Jim and John's comments above. If we do nothing, species go extinct. It's that simple. Living on an island that has seen too many species extinctions since people arrived 1000 years ago makes our responsibility clear. The recent judicious use here of 1080 and other conservation measures has seen an astonishing surge of hitherto rare native species in treated areas, including cities, in my archipelago: I want more.
Posted by Denis Asher on 22 Jul 2015


Yes, indeed, these projects which aerial bomb
rodenticide to kill animals are controversial.
Elizabeth Kolbert wrote a long article for the New
Yorker describing these projects in detail:
http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2014/12/2
2/big-kill. She quotes one of the volunteers for
these projects, “We always say that, for us,
conservation is all about killing things.”

And so it comes as no surprise that Ted Williams
is a big fan of these projects. Killing plants and
animals is his modus operandi. Here’s an article
in which he advocates for poisoning all the fish in
lakes because there are some non-native fish in
the lakes: https://www.hcn.org/wotr/when-
poisoning-is-the-solution . All the fish must die
so that the lakes can be restocked with
exclusively native fish. It’s ironic that Mr.
Williams describes himself as a fisherman. Just
certain fish, I guess.

Ted Williams also advised his friends how they
could poison cats. He was suspended from his
column at Audubon for that episode of his killing
advocacy, but was subsequently reinstated:
http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/27/business/m
edia/ted-williams-audubon-columnist-is-
reinstated.html?_r=0

Ted Williams is not a scientist or a journalist. He
is a commentator. His column in Audubon
magazine is entitled “Incite” because it is
intentionally inflammatory. He engages in
rhetoric and hyperbole in support of his opinion.
In an article in High Country News, Mr. Williams
describes “Incite” as a “muckraking column” and
he calls himself an “environmental extremist.”
https://www.hcn.org/wotr/extreme-green

Mr. Williams seems an unlikely contributor to
Yale Environment 360, which I consider a
science-based publication.

Posted by Million Trees on 23 Jul 2015


Well written. Although I come from New Zealand, I
understand the sentiments of using a poison for
pest control, and having opposition from a faction of
the public, because they do not (or don't want to)
understand the science behind it. Maggie Sergio is
one of these people spreading misnomers and
misinformation to discredit our
Department of Conservation.
Posted by Maryann Ewers on 23 Jul 2015


Thanks native ecosystem and endangered species defenders. For more information on rodent eradication on islands and the unfortunate controversy surrounding it download my piece "Chemotherapy for Island Wildlife" at:

http://www.iwla.org/news-events/outdoor-america/article/outdoor-america-2015-Issue-2/chemotherapy-for-island-wildlife

See also my exchange with Ms. Sergio at:
http://www.audubon.org/news/mouse

Finally, drop everything and order the superb book “Rat Island” by William Stolzenburg:

http://www.amazon.com/Rat-Island-Predators-Paradise-Greatest/dp/B008SMRQWW

This book isn’t just about the Rat Island in Alaska. It’s about saving native ecosystems and preventing extinctions by ridding islands around the globe of invasive aliens. Depressing at first. Ultimately uplifting. A fabulous read.

Posted by Ted Williams on 24 Jul 2015


If you are one of the growing number of people
who are skeptical about the need to eradicate
non-native species, I can recommend a new
book to you. “Beyond the War on Invasive
Species,” by Tao Orion starts with a chapter
about the pesticides used by these so-called
“restoration” projects and the damage those
pesticides are doing to the environment. Then
she visits several specific “restoration” projects
and tells us about the radical changes in the
environment that make their eradication both
futile and harmful. In most cases, the species
that presently occupy our public lands are there
because of changes in the underlying conditions,
such as water availability, climate, salinity, etc.
Eradicating that species does not change those
underlying conditions which is why their
predecessors do not return. The end result is a
devastated landscape, not a native landscape.
Nothing is accomplished in most of these projects
except a lot of death and destruction.

“Beyond the War on Invasive Species” is just the
latest of several books critical of invasion
biology. Fred Pearce’s “The New Wild” is equally
informative, although it does not cover the
pesticide issue in as much detail. Ken
Thompson’s “Where do camels belong” critiques
invasion biology using primarily British
examples. Its strong suit is a focus on the
largely meaningless distinction between native
and non-native. Although Emma Marris took a
ton of abuse for her “Rambunctious Garden,” it is
rather timid in its criticism of invasion biology
compared to those who came after her.

The tide is turning against invasion biology and
the destructive projects it demands. Unless you
are making your living on these projects, you will
want to inform yourself of the issues because
that’s where the public is headed.

Posted by Million Trees on 24 Jul 2015


In Texas, a host of plants such as autumn olive,
oriental honeysuckle, reed canary grass, and cats
everywhere. Before anyone accuses me of being a
snake, hog or cat hater, let me be clear. Snakes are
an important part of the ecosystems where they are
native. Wild boars provide important food for Asian
predators with which they have evolved, and I have
two pet cats which I adore. But they are not allowed
outdoors to wreak havoc on an ecosystem, on birds
and other creatures that have not developed survival
mechanisms against them.

My husband and I own a 45-acre sanctuary for
migrating and nesting birds in Michigan. If we had
not spent the last two plus decades eliminating
invasive plants on our property, we would not host
forty-five species of nesting birds annually — and a
couple of hundred breeding pairs. The proof of the
value of eliminating invasive species can be found
right here on this private effort. If this property were
full of autumn olive, spotted knapweed, and other
invasive plants, we would not have nearly the avian
population we currently enjoy.

Mr. Williams' article was not about the joy of killing,
but about a deep appreciation for the intricacies of
ecosystems. Bravo, Ted!
Posted by Kay Charter on 24 Jul 2015


The anti-invasion biology argument is essentially a species of
post-modern argument, decrying any system of value that
humans place on other species. As it was with the movement
in philosophy, it has become a useless, nihilist vacuum
pretending to be intellectual and scientific. Thus cats, shown
to be a subsidized predator extirpating millions of creatures,
become "just another neutral species in the pantheon", while
the other species are somehow completely irrelevant. Having
read "milliontrees" blog, where the writer rails against the
elimination of eucalyptus trees, we see the ignorance...in one
sentence the angelic eucalyptus are "food for honeybees",
ignoring the fact that honeybees are an imported, mostly
industrial agriculture used pollinator and perhaps the worst
example one could choose. All humans value certain species
over others, as this is an inescapable inheritance of being a
non-autotroph. A good day for a white-tailed deer is a bad day
for a clover plant, and it is also a bad day for moose and
woodland caribou as brainworm is spread, while
Parelaphostrongylus tenuis gets to survive. The problem with
the anti-invasive argument is dual: there is no such thing as
neutrality in view of species, and secondly, it is non-reality or
contextually based. It is as if the natural world is an abstract
model and the criticisms are placed on programmers for
emphasizing a higher coefficient on certain species, rather
than the reality of human importation, intended or not, has
had drastic consequences to entire species. By this
argument, any sort of restoration ecology or conservation is
invalid as it "values certain species over others". By this
argument, the natural process of fire in the California
landscape, now unable to occur due to the endless houses
populated by the neutral species Homo sapiens, was simply
an artifact of a specific time and climate regime, rather than
a disturbance that strongly influenced an entire ecosystem,
something apparently now devoid of any validity. Apparently
no mistake can now be undone, no new knowledge can
inform us for humans have no ability to discern the natural
world. By this argument, we can return to the days of housing
the mentally ill in dungeons as it wasn't a "mistake". Science,
for its many faults, has informed us of both comfort
(smallpox vaccination) and the uncomfortable, our
extirpating of other species and ecosystems. The reality is
this...we hauled in rats which weren't there, they have no
predators, they are wiping out entire species and island
biogeography has long since informed us of the
consequences. We choose whether to watch entire species
disappear by what we did, or we can wait millennia for a rat
evolved ecosystem to develop or other species to show up.
All options are value based choices. Choosing to maintain
biological diversity is nothing to apologize for.
Posted by Paul Ojanen on 25 Jul 2015


While the risk of administering poisons to control invasive species should always be carefully weighed, the effect of introduced populations of exotic plants and animals is often so catastrophic that extreme measure like these are the only possible alternative to the loss of entire populations of native organisms and even the extinction of species. To argue that there is no essential difference between native and non-native organisms is to condemn the earth to a wholesale loss of biodiversity. From a practical point of view, this exposes the earth to a perilous loss of genetic variation and destabilizes entire natural systems. From an esthetic point of view, it deprives of us of many beautiful and curious life forms, and from an ethical point of view, it is an unconscionable human impact on a living global tapestry that has taken 4 billion years to evolve. Like Mr. Williams, I would infinitely prefer to preserve naturally evolved systems without such draconian interference, but in all too many situations, the real violence has already been done, intentionally or accidentally, by humans. While we should do our best to make sure our efforts to reclaim native biota don't do more harm than good, the idea that we should simply shrug and allow our past mistakes to go unremedied is indefensible. Reducing the biota on earth to that handful of species that can exploit the presence of humans is dangerous and immoral.
Posted by Chris Madson on 25 Jul 2015


Some more very encouraging news. Well done, Island Conservation and partners!

http://www.birdlife.org/pacific/news/rare-chance-some-our-world\%E2\%80\%99s-rarest-birds
Posted by Ted Williams on 29 Jul 2015


This so-called opinion piece sounds very like a sales pitch for what has becoming a lucrative conservation industry – island eradications. Over the last few years, US based Island Conservation has become a major player.

The technique is simple. Highlight, or even manufacture a conservation crisis, say a threat to endemic species, like rats “decimating” seabirds on what was their former island sanctuary. This then forms the basis of a sales pitch to save the island and its birds using the most heavy-handed, destructive and expensive eradication option available – the New Zealand pioneered aerial poisoning with highly toxic second generation anti-coagulants like brodifacoum. It is a technology criticised by the Ornithological Council in its report on the Rat Island eradication. Often, such as on the Farallon or Antipodes Islands, there is no real threat or sea bird decline, but where there is, as is often the case, the cause of decline can be other factors.

South Georgia is cited as an example where there is a crisis in sea bird population brought about by predation from rats. There certainly does seem to be a crisis, especially in both the British owned Falklands and South Georgia, but it is not rats. It is overfishing by people. The birds' food chain has been almost wiped out. This has particularly affected penguins and cormorants, of which large numbers are dying of starvation. Saturation bombing from the air with brodifacoum to allegedly save them from rats will only add to the bird’s plight - it has been shown to pollute the food chain that the birds rely on in the oceans surrounding these islands.

Same too at the Farallons. Here though, with a twisted bit of logic, a “threat” crisis is contrived by claiming mice, which are doing no harm themselves, are to be poisoned to save the ashy storm petrel. The problem it is claimed is that by predating on mice, a small population of burrowing owls (a species of special interest, as is the ashey storm petrel) will remain on the islands. The owls, it is then claimed, kill the young of the ashy storm petrel, though analysis of owl scats do not support the thesis. So far, I understand IC have claimed a $482,000 fee from USFWS to prepare an EIS for the project. As sole providers, they anticipate making a lot more if this piece of environmental destruction is allowed to proceed.

I think we are allowed to ask the question, where does “avid hunter” Ted Williams stand in relation to IC and their profiteering?


Posted by Bill Benfield. on 02 Aug 2015


Mr. Benfield, a loud and lonely opponent of island ecosystem recovery in New Zealand, has found a dearth of fellow conspiracy theorists in that alien-blighted nation. He has had better luck in Fairfax, California where one hears that the NON-PROFIT Island Conservation, which has prevented extinctions of endangered species all over the globe, is motivated purely by money and that anyone defending it (me, for instance) must be getting a kickback. I thank Mr. Benfield, however, for repeating my main point -- id est, that “brodifacoum is “a highly toxic second generation anti-coagulant.” As I reported, you need a nuke. Nothing else will kill all the rodents and if you miss one pregnant rodent or one male-female pair, you fail. Mr. Benfield is, of course, entitled to his opinions. I cannot comment on them more eruditely than did Jim, above: “Almost always, opponents of lethal control are people with no background in biology. To them, a rat, a mouse, a house sparrow, and an endangered ashy storm-petrel are the same. They are not. We have a moral responsibility to preserve SPECIES, not individual animal lives. If we do nothing we lose WHOLE SPECIES. I know there are many that really don't care about that, but you can't call yourself an 'animal lover' if you are okay with a species disappearing.” What Mr. Benfield is not entitled to is to disseminate untruths on public forums. His statement that burrowing owl scat analysis indicates ashy storm-petrels aren’t in trouble on the Farallones is patently false. Predation is increasing. Half the ashy storm-petrels in the world nest on the refuge, so the mouse plague, if allowed to persist as Mr. Benfield advocates, could well cause the extinction of the species. But Mr. Benfield is not aware that the proposed eradication isn’t just about ashy storm-petrels, it’s about an entire ecosystem. Island Conservation did not “prepare” the EIS. If Mr. Benfield and his source had spoken with the players, they would understand that in the United States it is completely standard for government agencies to hire consultants and use their data sets, graphs, and even some copy in agency environmental review. The agencies then edit, delete, organize, and add their own copy and data sets. The environmental review documents are entirely their own. It has been ever thus. Finally, Mr. Benfield’s notion that an alleged lack of fish wiped out 90 percent of the birds on South Georgia Island is absurd. Abundant evidence, including photographs, proves beyond doubt that eggs and hatchlings were consumed by rats. And the crisis was ongoing long before the current fishing effort. The South Georgia pipet, a songbird that doesn’t eat fish, was headed for almost certain extinction. Now it’s nesting again.

Posted by Ted Williams on 03 Aug 2015


While Bill Benfield could be classed as loud he is far from lonely. Public opinion within New Zealand is now turning against this form of "Çonservation" without conscience, which can only ever be a contradiction at its best. The export of this technology, with its associated outdated mindset is not something to be celebrated.

Suggested reading is one of the Department of Conservation's own papers, The toxicity and sub-lethal effects of Brodifacoum on Birds and Bats by Spur and Eason. As a result of its own findings, this Department no longer uses brodifacoum on the mainland of NZ. By some strange logic though, it's OK to apply it to the most remote and fragile ecosystems found on islands. It's slow to kill, travels easily through food chains, it's residual, it gets into everything. Why would you do this? It's like pouring acid on music.

Everything is connected and Nature always bats last...
Posted by andy blick on 03 Aug 2015


Thank you, Ted Williams, for raising the issue of my country, New Zealand. It is, as you describe, “an alien blighted nation”. It all began in the government's forest service early last century as an obsession driven campaign against exotic browsers such as deer. It has morphed over time and successive government re-organisations to the Department of Conservation (DoC) and a virulent exotiphobia. Aerial poisoning with super toxins, as you advocate, began here around 60 years ago. Rare and ancient forest ecosystems that have come to us from Jurassic times have been targeted with super toxins such as brodifacoum and 1080. Millions of rare and endangered birds have been destroyed, even the insects that breakdown forest litter to make the soils so necessary for forest survival are also destroyed.

As most poisoning operations seldom get every creature (even at IC island eradications such as Wake, Henderson and Desecheo), it then becomes a race of the fastest breeders, and in this, the “aliens”, such as fast breeding rats and stoats, always win. New Zealand’s “alien blight” is entirely a creation of its own obsessive mismanagement.

The real problem now, for both New Zealand and the other countries that have brought into its mind set, is that it has spawned a whole multimillion dollar industry of ecosystem poisoning. It is a self-perpetuating industry that cynically uses the crisis of its own creation, the plagues of aliens and the collapse of endangered populations, as a marketing tool for its own growth and expansion. It is supported by conservation NGO’s like Forest and Bird, and others, who capitalise on the religious zealotry of their foot soldiers to push their own commercial agenda’s.
It is in New Zealand a conservation tragedy that is fueled by a malevolent blend of zealotry and greed, and it is being marketed to the rest of the world.

Posted by Bill Benfield on 04 Aug 2015


Bill Benfield is RIGHT on the money. It is easy for Mr. Williams to criticize from 7,000 miles away, but may I suggest that you read Mr.Benfield's book, The Third Wave — Poisoning the Land. If you read it, you may wish to revise your thinking & get a grip on reality! Every NZ Dept of [Conservation] scientist who has written a scientific paper on the effects of the toxic poisons that NZ pours over the countryside has been drummed out of a job! That's censorship at the extreme & doesn't really encourage anyone else who depends on government employment or contracts to stick their heads out of the box! I suggest that you Americans who really care about your wildlife take a look at NZ's graphic video clips of the destruction that this country has been doing for over 60 years. Google: "TVWILD.CO.NZ". You will be as disgusted as many thousands of us who love our bush & wildlife are. Don't make the mistakes that we have allowed to happen here.
Posted by Dave Mingins on 10 Aug 2015


Eradication is the soft path. If we find that an ecosystem (and in these cases, islands, so a relatively controlled environment) has some problem it wouldn't be that difficult to reintroduce the rats, for instance.

I am sure those of you who disagree with eradication have a plan or several should the need arise for such a thing.

Now I am fully in favor of eradication, but I remain open to hearing those plans. And what you think that would accomplish.

Also do you account for the generations that have and will be lost?

And do you have any empathy for the miserable lives these nonnative animals suffer?

Feral hogs for instance live short brutal lives, killing every living thing, leaving a trail of destruction. They can have 3 litters a year. What about all those animals that were brutalized, destroyed by the hogs? What did a fish do to deserve death because you feel empathy for a hog? Vegans often liken eating hogs to eating pet dogs. I have pet fish -- how dare you defend hogs over fish!

Rats on Palmyra lead miserable wet soggy nasty dirty diseased lives -- I find it amoral that you would condone such misery, but again I remain open to your rationale. Animal abuse is like porn, you know it when you see it. Those animals and all the generations before and after suffer.

On an atoll with 50,000 Coco palms, Coconut crabs starve. Millions of birds are eaten mostly as eggs and tormented by ants, their habitat already reduced by the largely non native Coco Palms (brought by humans)

And Pisonia was going extinct--

ahhh -- that word "was," that word right there folks, that word is the kiss of death to your arguments against eradication.

Island Conservation put that word there. They reversed an extinction.

Argue with that. I'm done with you all.
Posted by Tim Larson on 30 Oct 2015


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ted williamsABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ted Williams, an avid hunter and angler, writes strictly about fish and wildlife conservation. He is a longtime contributor to Audubon magazine and is conservation editor for Fly Rod & Reel magazine. Previously for e360, he reported on illegal wildlife trade on the Internet and global progress in shark conservation efforts.
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