How many of you have visited a Department of Conservation office in a National Park recently, or walked one of New Zealand’s numerous fine tramps?
In one of those rare moments, albeit with different views about how to tackle the issue, two Members of Parliament – Labour M.P. Jacinda Ardern, and A.C.T. Leader David Seymour – have agreed that Department of Conservation staff are an increasingly endangered species. Aside from being noteworthy because of Labour and A.C.T.’s contrasting philosophies about the environment and how to manage it and the ecosystems it sustains, A.C.T. has in the past been highly critical of D.O.C. and its work.
But they are both right. Department of Conservation staff are a bit like an endangered species. Their employer is substantially underfunded and resourced for the tasks that they are expected to do. The D.O.C. estate comprises a substantial part of the South Island, encompassing a myriad of terrains from coastal beaches to high alpine peaks whose summits are 12,000ft above sea level. To their credit, they also correctly acknowledge that the announcement of making New Zealand predator free by 2050 is gob smacking, when one considers the funding being made available to achieve this – $1.49 per New Zealander, per year.
This is where the similarities end.
Whilst Ms Ardern did not mention how she would fund the work, I think it is fair to impose an entry fee on all people entering a New Zealand National Park. The fee would be used to fund the maintenance of D.O.C. infrastructure, thereby freeing up more money to invest in rangers. Ultimately a modest increase in tax payer funding is necessary to fund long term programmes, but philosophically a user pays one off fee per visit to use the facilities of our National Parks for ones leisure seems like a fair deal to me.
Mr Seymour’s suggestion that Landcorp be sold to raise the money has question marks over it, not least because often buyers do not have the same appreciation of the socio-economic value of such assets. Past attempts to sell assets have also raised questions about the process and whether the asking price is realistic. Because of this and also because Landcorp should work for New Zealanders and not private interests, this suggestion is not a starter though what the money would be used for is laudable.