EDITORIAL – Iguana eradication: Funding the war Cayman must win

“Execution doesn’t like complexity. The two best friends of execution are simplicity and transparency.”
– Chris McChesney, co-author of “The 4 Disciplines of Execution”

The Department of Environment appears to be moving closer to implementing a massive cull intended to stop the spread of invasive green iguanas on Grand Cayman.

They are asking government for a $7 million funding infusion and are seeking bids from private companies to manage the multi-year program that aims to exterminate 1.4 million of the beasts in the first year, alone. We support and applaud their initiative and encourage government to fund fully this effort. It is an ecological battle we must not lose.

The stakes could hardly be higher: Every year – indeed, every day – that Cayman’s green iguana population goes unchecked, its population grows exponentially. Frankly, we are taken aback that this issue has gone unnoticed or unaddressed for so long by successive governments. Now we’ve got a gargantuan mess on our hands.

In addition to our stated support for this eradication effort, we want to make these further points:

First, it is important that the Department of Environment proceed with openness and transparency on this issue going forward. There is no conceivable need – or excuse – for secrecy or privacy.

As Fred Burton, the manager of the DoE’s terrestrial resources unit, has said, the cull must strike hard and early to overtake the species’ natural increase. If cullers fall behind in meeting their targets, the program will likely fail. Execution of this highly complex initiative will require levels of coordination and execution rarely associated with “government work.”

The plan, which officials hope to begin as early as October, would work as follows: The DoE will license cullers who commit to culling at least 5,000 iguanas each year. They will report to and be paid by the private manager, who will weigh and tally the iguana carcasses and report progress to the DoE. A project steering committee including the cull manager, members of the DoE and the Ministry of Health, Environment, Culture and Housing will set monthly targets and ensure the project is progressing as planned.

A key question we raise is how confident are Mr. Burton and the DoE in their estimates of the fluctuating size of the iguana population. We assume they know how to count iguanas (we do not) because unless their methodology is credible and statistically verifiable, they (and we) will never know whether their efforts are succeeding. On one level, this is a purely quantitative initiative – but we must have faith in the accuracy of the numbers.

We would strongly urge Mr. Burton and/or the DoE to name a dedicated spokesperson who would be knowledgeable about every aspect of the culling program and readily available to answer questions and share details with the public and, its proxy, the media.

For our part, the Compass would be pleased to publish a weekly “public scoreboard” that illustrates the progress of the program toward its agreed-upon goal of eradication. Such a scoreboard would offer an at-a-glance view of whether the program is on track, falling behind or, all would hope, exceeding its expectations.