The gross underestimation of conservation


To some people conservation and ensuring the sustainability of species is a way of life. It is a chance to understand how the ecosystem works, enhance their place in it all the while enhancing the place of flora and fauna in it. To others conservation is the domain of supposedly anti-business, anti-employment Green Party tree huggers.

Despite writing this piece as an ode to conservation, it might surprise people to know I am not a tree hugger – or a Green Party member/supporter. I recognize extractive industries such as forestry, mining and oil extraction as necessary evils. Unless there is a revolution both in transport and energy sources, fossil fuel to some extent is here to stay. Likewise timber will continue to be needed for construction, paper, and a multitude of other purposes. Whilst coal may be in decline, as long as there is a demand for electronics, rare earth materials will continue to be mined.

Mining, where done with minimal adverse impact on the environment with a comprehensive rehabilitation programme once mining is finished is okay with me. This assumes under New Zealand law that an application for resource consent to construct a mine was received and processed. It understands that the Assessment of Environmental Effects required was comprehensive and that endangered flora and fauna were accounted and provided for. It understands that the people, companies, organizations and communities affected were notified and given reasonable opportunity to make submissions, and if necessary, extra submissions. Finally it understands that if the consent were approved, that any conditions attached are being abided by the applicant and enforced by the consenting council/s.

Although I have declared I am not a tree hugger, I am not a proponent of reckless economic development where activities on private property are allowed to proceed without regard for the effects and those affected. The Resource Management Act and the Acts of Parliament that it is the umbrella legislation for, pay regard to conservation because the sustainability of the ecosystem is totally integral to the well being of the environment at large, both here and abroad.

New Zealand has a tourism industry worth billions of dollars per annum. And a very large chunk of that tourism is conservation driven. People come from all over the world to see Milford Sound on a clear peaceful day with its mirror image of Mitre Peak. They come to see our unique wildlife of Kea, Kakapo, Kiwi and Tuatara and learn about how Gondwanaland was formed. And when they are gone they go on and perhaps meet other travellers and compare notes about New Zealand as humans do – what did they enjoy; not enjoy and so on. They are critically important, because aside from ensuring the incomes of thousands of New Zealanders, if they do not like what they see, they will tell family and friends not to go to New Zealand – that negative feedback is damaging as it is now, but it will be a hundred times worse if we do not look after our conservation estate.

Our conservation estate is as magnificent as it is expansive. It has two world heritage areas in Fiordland National Park and Tongariro National Park, one encompassing a glaciated landscape of fiords, native forest clad mountains with superb walking tracks and unparalleled vistas; the other a volcanic landscape showing New Zealands oldest national park that has been used in award winning films. National Parks in Westland alone creates $250 million per annum in revenue. Entire West Coast communities owe their existence to Fox and Franz Josef ¬†Glaciers, just as others such as Granity and Okarito had their hey day in the gold rush of the 1860’s.

Unless one wants to upend thousands of jobs, cost us potentially billions of dollars in lost revenue and cripple numerous communities all over New Zealand, then we need to look after our conservation estate. We need to invest more in pest control, and perhaps introduce a fee paid by tourists to fund the infrastructure necessary in our parks. We cannot afford to let water quality deteriorate any further in rivers where recreational fishing, and other such pursuits happen.

Because our conservation estate makes a contribution to the economy that justifies the expenditure.

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