Friday, August 23, 2013

My Pest Control Thought for the Day

In the course of my job I do a lot of research, and this involves using the internet to investigate pest control around the world; new products, new research findings, new researchers, and what the customers on the internet around the world think about pest control.

At times I become frustrated by the negative things I read about pest control, often written by well meaning people. Pest control, particularly using pesticides, is viewed by some as an attack on the planet and the natural world of the planet.

I have a very different view on pest control to those people. But my aim is the same as of those critics; I want to protect the nature of planet Earth.

I am not involved greatly in agricultural pest control, most of my involvement is in the pests of the home and garden; rats in the roof space, aphids on the roses, that sort of thing. And the protection of New Zealand’s biosecurity and biodiversity, i.e. controlling pests that threaten both the economy of the country by reducing agricultural efficiency and controlling pests that would, given the chance, overcome and replace New Zealand’s natural flora and fauna.

Although not involved much in agricultural pest control I have some understanding of it and will include it in my discussion.

I view pest control as redressing an imbalance. 

Us, we humans, you and I. We, by our explosive recent success in colonising and inhabiting the planet Earth have upset the previous balance of nature. We aren’t the first species to do so and we may not be the last (optimistic view point). But our sudden (in evolutionary terms) proliferation has put strain on the other animals and the plants that inhabit this planet. Many, too many, have already succumbed and gone extinct, never to be seen again. I fear many more will disappear in the next century.

No one else can blame us. We are the only species here able to understand what we are doing. So we must blame ourselves if we cannot control the destiny of our planet’s life and, in turn, our own future.

Why do we have to control pests? What are pests? Pests are organisms in the ‘wrong’ place or doing us harm. When I say doing us harm I include organisms that do harm to us indirectly by threatening some other part of the environment; the environment that we live in and supports us.

If humans, you and I, did not exist on planet Earth, there would continue the struggle for survival between the other organisms. The balance of nature is not fixed, it naturally ebbs and flows around a sustainable mid-point. But our shear numbers, and our need to feed these numbers, and our industries, cause much larger fluctuations away from that mid-point, and an ‘imbalance’ among the other species. As we grow in numbers many of them decline. The only species that benefit from our population boom are those that can take advantage of the environments that we create through our agriculture, industry, lifestyle etc. In taking advantage, they become pests.

New Zealand RobinNot controlling these pests would only tip the balance further from the mid-point. Consider what would happen if we did not control possums and rats in New Zealand. There would be much greater damage to native forests, there would more pressure on native birds and our agriculture would be less efficient due to the possums transmission of disease to cattle and deer. Those that decry the use of the toxin 1080 (sodium floroacetate) for control of possums, rats and other pests in New Zealand have not really considered the consequences of not controlling these pests because they have not seen what damage they could do; because the control has been carried out. I suspect these very same people would be the ones most vociferously calling for something to be done to save the forests if possum control was not carried out.

I hear the cry from many in the anti-1080 lobby saying they do not say that possum and rat control should not be carried out, but that aerially applied 1080 should not be used to do it; it should be trapping and hand laying using ‘safer’ toxins. I fear they have either not carried out any such work themselves and experienced the difficulties, and have not done the math on the cost or the time and manpower required to carry out control equivalent to that using aerial 1080. They also apply data from many years ago to their arguments that 1080 is harmful to birds and other species in the environment. The management of 1080 operations has become much more sophisticated than it once was and it is clear that the risks to non-target animals, and the environment in general, is vastly outweighed by the benefits from possum and rat reduction.

Why do I think pest control, including the use of ‘nasty’ chemicals in agriculture, biosecurity, biodiversity, even home and garden, is redressing the imbalance caused by our proliferation?

Because what we call a pest is only a pest due to our need to sustain our burgeoning population. This has meant the need to alter the environment in our favour. A weevil is not a pest until our need to feed millions causes us to grow monocultures of the crops that the weevil eats. Providing it with its favoured food in vast quantities removes food availability as a limiting factor in its population and it reproduces out of control. Or it would be out of control if we did not intervene to redress the balance with pest control.

If we do not take steps to understand the imbalance we cause, and take steps to redress the balance as far as we can, we will tip the balance too far, and risk destroying much of life on Earth, including………or most certainly the human species; maybe not you and I, but our offspring.

Pest control is not the only thing that we need to do to keep the environment in a position close enough to that ‘sustainable balance of nature mid-point’. We must also look to limit our population and our need to manipulate the environment to benefit ourselves at the detriment of other species or we risk moving so far from the mid-point that our balance is lost and we fall.

So, pest control is about redressing the imbalance in the populations of Earth’s living organisms largely caused by our need to feed ourselves. But it is not a solution on its own.

I should declare that I am an advocate for Kiwicare* products in New Zealand. Not because I work for them, but I work for them because I am an advocate. This Blog is mine and not Kiwicare’s.

* Kiwicare Corporation Ltd. manufactures and distributes a range of pest control products in New Zealand and elsewhere.

Why do Scuba divers always fall backwards off their boats?
Because if they fell forward, they’d still be in the boat.

1 comment:

  1. Not controlling these pests would only tip the balance further from the mid-point.



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