Restoring Department of Conservation to health

Department of Conservation is the Government (D.o.C.) agency that has the task of protecting, promoting and enhancing New Zealand’s bird, reptile, insect and marine life.

Since National took office in 2008, the department has like every other Government ministry or agency, been subject to cost cutting as the Government sought to stabilize the financial books. As a result Department of Conservation has been forced to look elsewhere for funding to carry out essential projects such as the Kiwi protection programme. Although funding from private sources is welcome, it means to a degree the Department of Conservation which is supposed to work for all New Zealanders may be asked for favours from the private sector.

If one is flexible about funding the Department, why not introduce user pays charges at National Parks – upon entry to the National Park, an entry fee of a few dollars should be paid. It could be collected by the driver of tourist buses, or paid by credit/EFTPOS/cash at a barrier arm controlled point. For somewhere such as Milford Sound where space is at a premium already and further expansion involves either prohibitive land reclamation or diverting a river off its floodplain, this would be a good way to make sure that tourism usage of the township is sustainable.

I will be fair. There is no doubt some good things have happened for New Zealand’s wildlife in that time. The endangered Katipo spider, which is famous for being the only poisonous native species in New Zealand, was granted protection by the first Minister of Conservation Kate Wilkinson in 2010. Whilst good for the Katipo it is a potentially hollow decision as its detractor, the False Katipo, which is an invasive South African spider that looks like a real Katipo but lacks the distinctive red mark, and is very widespread (check your wood pile) is well established. When Ms Wilkinson was demoted in 2011, her replacement Dr Nick Smith who has a Ph.D. in civil engineering was quick to agree to a long and often delayed Marine Sanctuary being formalized for Akaroa Harbour. Dr Smith has also declined resource consent for the Fiordland monorail to connect the Milford Sound road with Queenstown, which was a notable victory for common sense since it proposed to build a quite intrusive project that would have had significant detrimental effects to the ecosystem, have been built across known fault lines and would have had possibly prohibitive conditions attached had it been granted.

However there has also been some very negative treatment of the Conservation estate by National. Minister of Energy and Resource Simon Bridges shares none Dr Smiths pragmatism over environmental issues. Like his predecessor Gerry Brownlee, who proposed to to open National Parks to mining, Mr Bridges has dismissed on a regular basis concerns about the potential impact of drilling and exploration in the marine habitats of some of New Zealand’s most endangered creatures. The resulting outcry, mainly led by the Greens and conservation groups also has the support of New Zealand First and to a lesser extent Labour.

Due to the threat of potential further development, I believe a discussion about reclassifying land and educating the public on the process needs to be had. Few will understand the implication of Schedule 4 of the Resource Management Act, which deals with the protection of the conservation estate. Whilst reclassifying the land, it would be a good opportunity to discuss additional measures for covering D.o.C’s  costs.

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