Island residents and the LHIB have been involved in the control of rodents (rats and mice) on Lord Howe Island since about 1920.
In 2001, the LHIB commissioned a feasibility study that looked at a long-term solution to the problem, through a program of total eradication. Between 2004 and 2007 the LHIB undertook further investigation and consultation, including looking at the benefits of eradication to the Kentia Palm industry, as well the benefits and risks to the natural environment. These studies led to a Draft Eradication Plan that was prepared in 2009 (LHIB, 2009).
The 2009 Plan was sent for extensive expert and peer review by the following:
- The New Zealand Department of Conservation’s Island Eradication Advisory Group
- Invasive Species Specialist Group of the Species Survival Commission of the World Conservation Union (IUCN)
- Worldwide Fund for Nature, Australia
- Birds Australia
- Landcare Research, New Zealand
- Professor Tim Flannery
The 2009 Eradication Plan was then put on public exhibition between 30 October and 27 November 2009. Numerous submissions on the plan were received. A final plan will be developed addressing comments and considering relevant approvals conditions. This eradication program subsequently received significant funding from the New South Wales Government’s Environment Trust and the Australia Government’s Caring for Our Country Program in 2012.
As part of proceeding with the implementation of the project, the eradication plan and a Human Health Risk Assessment (Toxikos, 2010) was presented to the community by the LHIB with the assistance of consultants “Make Stuff Happen”, in 2013.
The consultation on the draft plan identified strong views both for and against the removal of rodents, and in particular, the specific eradication program presented involving the use of brodifacoum and aerial distribution. In recognition of the differing views within the community, the LHIB decided in early 2014 to put the proposed eradication on hold and to go back to the community to discuss what options are available.
Between July 2014 and February 2015, Elton Consulting undertook a series of community consultation visits to Lord Howe Island. They spoke on a one-on-one basis, through personal visits or open sessions at the public hall, to many Island residents, concerning the issue of rodent control and potential eradication on the Island. They implemented an incremental approach to consultation to unpack the complexity of the community response to the previous rodent eradication process, and to identify what it would take for the community to actively engage in the evaluation of alternatives and options, with the aim to obtain community support or endorsement of any one particular approach.
A Community Working Group was established, based on residents who indicated a willingness to participate, along with an open call for nomination/ involvement, put out through a newsletter to community residents. In working towards a solution, the working group identified many issues (particularly regarding human health, potential impacts to business and tourism and potential impact to the environment) and considered a range of options. The option to “do nothing” was generally not considered an alternative, as there was broad agreement that rats and mice are a problem, and that Lord Howe Island would be better off with no rodents.
Two scenarios were therefore further investigated and discussed, these being:
- Ongoing management through the existing baiting program, and the potential to expand this.
- An eradication program as previously proposed or modified where possible to address Island residents’ concerns.
It was agreed to develop and implement a community survey to test community support for these scenarios, whilst recognising that many of the community concerns with the proposed eradication could be addressed during the Planning and Approvals Phase. It was agreed that an additional independent Human Health Risk Assessment was needed and should also be progressed. In May of 2015, an options paper was disseminated to all people registered on the electoral roll for Lord Howe Island, together with an anonymous survey to allow the community to choose between:
- Option 1 – Retain and expand the current management program
- Option 2 – moving to the planning and approvals stage of an eradication program. A total of 212 respondents (71% of the 299 people on the electoral roll) participated in the survey. 208 survey responses were received before the closing time.
An overwhelming majority of respondents agreed (38%) or strongly agreed (53%) that the rodent problem on Lord Howe Island needs to be addressed. A small majority (52%) of all respondents expressed a preference for Option 2 whilst 48% of respondents expressed a preference for Option 1 – Retain and expand the current management program.
In line with the agreed Process for Resolution, the LHIB responded to the majority view and on 19 May 2015 made the decision to proceed to the Planning and Approvals Phase.
Engagement with the community continued during 2015 – 2017 in the lead up to the decision to proceed. One on one discussions were held with residents about what they would like to happen on their individual properties. Engagement was also undertaken through a variety of other methods. The Community Working Group was re-activated and met monthly to discuss project progress and community concerns. Minutes of the meetings are publicly available through the LHIB website.
The final decision by the LHIB, along with the Funding Bodies, to proceed with the eradication was made in September 2017 informed by the technical, social and financial feasibility of the project.
Community engagement has continued with all residents during the lead up to implementation and has carried on throughout the project rollout.