Pest Culling Could Help Climate Efforts

Wednesday 23 Jun 2021

Culling deer, possums and other pests could undo 15 per cent of our annual climate impact — Forest and Bird – Culling deer, possums, goats, feral pigs and other invasive mammals could let established native forests recover to the point where they sucked in 15 per cent of New Zealand’s yearly greenhouse gas emissions, says a report from Forest and Bird.

The conservation advocacy group has used a report by Crown science agency Scion, as well as independent estimates of the numbers of feral mammals and other information, to estimate how much eradicating pests could benefit the climate.

More than a decade of monitoring at native forest plots scattered the length of the country shows New Zealand’s established forests are in equilibrium – sucking in roughly as much carbon dioxide as they release.

But while reports to government agencies often stress that forests are overall in balance, Forest and Bird argued looking at the national average was missing the point. The natural forests inventory tracks hundreds of representative plots of forest. It’s the nearest to an official count of how much carbon the nation’s old-growth forests are gaining and losing.

While each deer, possum, or other mammal eats only a tiny proportion of a forest’s foliage, the total becomes significant once spread over vast forests, the report said. Warm-blooded browsers also eat seedlings and kill young trees, which doesn’t remove much carbon immediately, but can disrupt the next generation of trees from growing in a mature forest.

The forest inventory is out of date – covering the years from 2002-2014 – however the results were only recently published. Forest and Bird’s Kevin Hackwell said there was no reason to think carbon losses from Kamahi-podocarp forest had stopped since 2014, and, if extrapolated over two decades, would add up to almost as much as the country’s annual emissions.

Per year, counting foliage eaten directly and other impacts, the group estimated 8.4 million tonnes of carbon dioxide could be saved by culling pests to the lowest possible level.

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Photo credit: Gerard Hutching, 'Possums - Possums in New Zealand'

Source: Scoop

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