Ecotourism - the Maungatautari example


  • D.G. Wallace



Much of the value of restoring ecological processes on islands and areas on the mainland lies in answering the question, "how worthwhile is it, in any circumstances, to control invasive weeds and pests?" When the Maungatautari Ecological Island Trust (MEIT) builds a 50 km pest proof fence around Maungatautari, a 3400ha forest-clad mountain in the heart of the Waikato, and then eradicates all the pests, we will travel down a restorative path largely ignorant of how the environment functioned just a thousand years ago, before human settlement. We will learn a lot as we clumsily put the ecological jigsaw puzzle back together again. And of course there will be some missing pieces, for example, the recent extinctions like moa and huia. There will be value in this new knowledge and in the recovered "dawn chorus", but how do we price it? If we can't price it, if it has no value, then how do we give the Maungatautari Ecological Island Trust a long life free of begging? The answers begin in what makes the Waikato community seek to restore the mountain to something as close as possible for its "unspoilt" state, i.e. the state it was in before exotic pests and weeds invaded it. We have a sense of natural value lost; a longing for what we know was once there. This is based on knowing just how different our forest ecology was to that of any other country, evolving as it did in the absence of mammals (with the exception of the 2 species of bat). The ecological niche occupied by mammals in other countries, was filled here by the extraordinary array of invertebrates, lizards, frogs and birds. And many of our endemic plants came to be extraordinary as well, partly as a response to the set of animals that evolved.