Back in early January, I had an eye-opening experience deep out in the New Zealand bush (translation: thick forest). Unlike most of my eye-opening experiences out in the bush, which usually pertain to the wonder of nature and the incredible intricacies of it all, this one was firmly rooted in the human experience and highlighted the importance of deep story-listening.
I was tramping with my father and sister in Te Urewera, one of New Zealand’s most incredible regions of natural beauty. We were staying in a backcountry hut managed by the Department of Conservation (DOC), and sharing our accommodations was a local man named Ron.
Ron was self-described as a “professionally retired” farmer, a life-long hunter, and he hated DOC with a vengeance. He was staunchly against the use of 1080 poison (sodium fluoroacetate), which is used across New Zealand to manage introduced predator species such as possums, rats and stoats. The use of 1080 is highly controversial in New Zealand, with critics opposing it on the grounds that it results in a slow and painful death, and the fact that it sometimes kills non-target species including native birds, deer, dogs, insects, reptiles, and fish. Supporters contend that, while not perfect, 1080 is the only fast, practical, and cost-effective means of controlling the predator species that prey upon New Zealand’s native bird species, 80% of which are endangered or in some form of trouble. (Note: This is not a story about 1080. Please don’t start a debate in the comments about the merits or dangers of 1080 use. That’s not what we’re here for.)
As a former DOC employee involved in conservation and predator control (albeit through trapping), I found myself reacting strongly to some of his claims which I considered ludicrous and unfounded in modern science — for example, that possums introduced from Australia don’t really do much harm at all to New Zealand’s environment, and that the ecosystem will look after itself… Hmmmm. Despite my skepticism, I chose to listen with curiosity and empathy. I can see both sides of the 1080 argument and am not staunchly committed to a position either way, yet my historical association with DOC and my associated narratives saw my…