The “furry money-spinner” – the history of the possum in New Zealand

Possums are now estimated to number 70 million in New Zealand, and are acknowledged as a pest that inflicts colossal damage on New Zealand’s indigenous flora and fauna. However, only 100 years ago, they were highly valued and strictly protected.

Possums were introduced to New Zealand with the intention of establishing a fur trade. They were first released in the 1830s, but initially failed to become established. Imports began to taper off after 1900, and until the late 1930s, they were periodically protected as imported game – it was illegal to trap or kill them. As David Young notes, they were regarded by the government as “furry money-spinners” well into the third decade of the 20th century. Continue reading

The ultimate paradox?

Children at Toko Primary School, Taranaki, planting trees on Arbor Day 1900. In the fields around them, the devastating effects of the milling and burning of forest that was occurring throughout the country can clearly be seen. [Photo not to be reproduced without the permission of Alexander Turnbull Library, ref 1/2-003378-F. Acknowledgments to David Young for sharing this poignant photo in Our Islands Our Selves.]

A lesson not learnt – Lake Manapouri

In his history of conservation in New Zealand, Our Islands, Our Selves, David Young provides us with an anecdote that illustrates that the way we understand and value our environment does not always develop following an upwards trajectory through time.

He relates how in 1903, two engineers, L.M. Hancock (from California) and Peter Hay, were commissioned to report on the hydro-electric potential of New Zealand’s lakes and rivers. Their 1904 report drew the following conclusions about Lake Manapouri: “It is not likely, for scenic reasons, that a high dam would be build at Manapouri. The present beauty of the lake is worth preserving to its fullest extent.”

Yet, 60 years later, the government began work on a hydro-electric scheme that would raise the level of the lake 26 metres. It was only after an unprecedented level of public opposition over more than a decade – including a petition of 264,900 signatures – and ultimately leading to the downfall of the National government, that the lake was saved from this fate.

Picture above: After Rain” (Lake Manapouri), by Tim Wilson. Used with permission from artist.