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How has Conservation Fared Under This Government?

Written By: - Date published: 7:00 am, September 10th, 2020 - 39 comments
Categories: Conservation, Environment, eugenie sage, greens, labour, uncategorized - Tags:

I’m going to give this government just 5 out of 10 on the conservation front.

I’m not going to cover the RMA, since the legislation hasn’t taken shape yet. Nor am I broadening this out to water quality and farm practices.

But let’s have a look at the efforts that have gone into stopping nature getting worse.

I’ll start with the bad stuff. There’s a bit of it unfortunately.

Despite 40 years of activists and volunteers and donors working their guts out, most of our bird species continue to decline.

Each week through the email and mail I get updates from Forest and Bird telling me of the astonishing wins they are having in the High Court, Appeal Court and Supreme Court stopping outrages from miners. And updates about expanding this and that from Predator Free. I just love them.

But they aren’t the government, and they know the tide continues to turn against our native species.

Eight million years of our endemic bird diversity has been lost, and it’s just gone.

Only 14% of our birds have improved their survivability over the last 40 years.

And then there’s our native dolphins. Our Hector’s Dolphins have declined from around 30,000 individuals in 1970 to fewer than 8,000 today. Maui Dolphins have about 50 left and of that about 20 breeding females from the latest estimate. That means probable extinction within the next 2 parliamentary terms.

This year the Minister of Conservation and Minister of Fisheries have made some useful responses to try and limit the damage.

The government has also responded though the New Zealand biodiversity strategy.

Then there’s Tahr.

Following their backdown to control the explosion of Tahr deer in conservation areas including National Parks in 2018, plans for more Tahr control excited the commercial hunter fraternity to get 500 four-wheel-drive utes and their assorted grunts together to moan in unison, and then took DoC to the High Court and won, so the Department of Conservation has again scaled back controlling Tahr. There’s no one else responsible for this except the Minister of Conservation. There wasn’t the corresponding counter-protest that enabled the Minister to stand against the pressure either.

The carve-outs for Wapiti Deer in Fiordland National Park does, I am sure, keep some tourists happy; there are special arrangements in place for those gun-rack guys in Te Anau. But this one is just worse.

So that’s some pretty bad performance marks on the actual task of conservation.

But there’s two big things the Minister has done well.

The first is institutional support.

She got the money.

Budget 2018 got DoC the largest budget increase since 2002: $181.6 million over four years.

Out of that came volumes of cash for a whole squad of Predator Free projects, from Banks Peninsula, to Wellington’s Miramar Peninsula, to northland, and budget for getting on top of Wilding Pines through the Green Growth fund.

This last one was very important. In many areas like the Queenstown and Mackenzie basin, they’ll be removing longstanding infestations that have become a familiar part of the landscape. People are inclined to think any tree has a value. But the recent fires near Lake Pukaki only a few years after the devastating fires in Flock Hill have shown that wilding pines threaten the ecosystem, the economy, and society.

Yes, even Federated Farmers liked that one.

Like all the big expenditure increases from this term of government, it takes a year or two for the funding to really roll out there in the community, and even longer for its effects to be felt in measurable results. That’s especially the case where little furry animals have to have enough mustelids and possums shot and poisoned around them for them to feel safe enough to breed again with a fair survival rate. It takes time to get the mood on, even for a Kakapo that doesn’t see a mate more than once a season.

The second is in conservation estate control and expansion.

Rakitu island in the Hauraki Gulf is the latest predator-free triumph.

They are well underway to eradicate all predator pests from the Auckland Islands.

They’re preparing to eradicate the big pests across the whole of Stewart Island – the biggest project in New Zealand – because they now have the funding and will to do it.

This is bold ambition made manifest to protect whole islands – and there are so many more parts of the conservation estate that have electrified activist groups and mana whenua right across the country. Go all you rat killers!

On expanding the estate, while there has been no new national park formed for nearly 20 years, what this Minister has done is expand Kahurangi National Park by over 158,000 acres last year. This included the whole of the Mokikinui River catchment that had previously been threatened by a Meridian Energy proposal back in 2008. The Minister’s move increased the size of that national park by 14%.

This is on top of getting a corridor of land to connect the Kahurangi and Abel Tasman National Parks together.

We will be well aware of the longstanding proposal by the Federated Mountain Clubs of New Zealand for a Remarkables National Park, and honestly I really want that one to happen.

But in the meantime, that Kahurangi expansion is as big as a reasonable-sized national park all by itself. Win.

The conservation stories in New Zealand are strong. I’m aware I get a false impression of our successes because I tend to go on highly trapped medium difficulty tracks with lots of tourists and millions in sponsorship. But it’s still damn cool to see the results there.

So, overall, Sage has been an impressive beltway mover who has delivered the money, strengthened DoC, strengthened our entire family of ecological activist institutions, and expanded and strengthened lots of the conservation estate.

But on the broad front of halting the decline of our endangered species, no show on the critical results area.

5 out of 10.

39 comments on “How has Conservation Fared Under This Government? ”

  1. Robert Guyton 1

    5 out of 10? Tahr very much!

  2. Incognito 2

    Phytophthora agathidicida.

    I thought that was a huge problem in your neck of the woods, as were giant rats and chicken chasers. In the Waitaks there are feral goats, wild pigs, feral cats, German wasps, to name a few. The Auckland City Council needs to increase its budget for pest control. Possums are roaming freely in the Auckland Domain. We need much more coordination between local, regional, and national agencies and Ministries. We need an effective strategy. It’s a shambles and money and huge amounts of effort are simply wasted. Only when it threatens our primary industry all guns start blazing, e.g. to combat Mycoplasma bovis or the painted apple moth.

    They deserve no more than 3 out of 10.

    • Ad 2.1

      If the post were discussing Auckland Council's conservation performance I'd agree with you.

      This post evaluates the performance of Conservation under this government.

      • Andre 2.1.1

        Kauri dieback isn't just an Auckland issue, it's an entire upper North Island issue.

        That Auckland council have had to take the lead and done most of the pushing against the problem is indeed a failing of this government. DOC and other agencies really should have been much more active and involved.

        • Ad 2.1.1.1

          Agree. Auckland Council failed comprehensively on Kauri Dieback and it was central government that came up with the funding in this term.

      • Incognito 2.1.2

        Ok then, I’ll try a different way: our strategy to eliminate Covid-19. It only works if/when we all work together (team of five million, GPs, DHBs, regional health agencies, MoH, et cetera), because we are all in it together. Conservation is no different (nor is action against CC)! My point was that if it is important and critical enough the central Government will act, decisively and effectively, but they are not.

        3 out of 10.

        • Ad 2.1.2.1

          Government remains far and away the dominant player in conservation, both in its estate and in its funding. As I was at pains to point out, there are thousands of groups fighting the good fight in conservation, have done for multiple decades. The NZ Team are working as hard as possible.

  3. KJT 3

    And on marine reserves and fishing basically nothing.

    Negotiation with Iwi over the Kermadecs has gone quiet.

    Sequestering a proportion of the sea floor from fishing of any sort seems to be in the too hard basket.

    The quota system is failing.

    The area I've sailed in most of my life, the inner Hauraki Gulf, is a desert compared to what it was like 30 years ago. With a disturbing lack of fingerlings. Which is certainly due to over fishing by recreational fishers, as bottom trawling was banned some time ago and other commercial fishing much reduced.

    Not that it is particularly this Government. Greens have pushed them into some progress. After National’s drill it, mine it.

    The ending of future oil permits is a big win, for our environment. However refusing to contemplate further taxes, including obviously “polluter pays” means no money for sustainable development and “just transitions”.

    • Draco T Bastard 3.1

      Negotiation with Iwi over the Kermadecs has gone quiet.

      There's no reason to negotiate. The Kermadecs were not part of NZ at the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi and thus not part of their traditional fishing grounds as protected by the Treaty.

      Curtis and Macauley were discovered (1788) by the crew of the British ship “Lady Penrhyn.” The others were found (1793) by the French navigator Joseph d’Entrecasteaux, who named the entire group after one of his ships. The first Europeans who settled there (1837) sold garden crops to passing whalers, but they were forced to leave by a volcanic eruption in 1872; the islands were resettled in 1878 but were evacuated at the beginning of World War I. The group was annexed to New Zealand in 1887. A meteorological–communications station, established on Raoul in 1937, remains, but permanent settlement is discouraged by the extreme isolation of the group.

      Yep, the islands were British in 1840 and stayed that way until 1887.

      as bottom trawling was banned some time ago

      Just because it was banned doesn't mean to say that it stopped.

  4. Robert Guyton 4

    Any government can only go so far as the culture of the society they represent, allows them to. An agricultural-based culture like ours is resistant to the call of the wild. This will not change until our culture changes. A beetle reading this would despair.

  5. Janet 5

    Only two things need be considered by those directing pest control funding for purpose of conservation gain.

    1/ cost per ha to deliver.

    2/ that the "outcome" target is met whilst having the least impact on communities and non-target deaths.

    The only way this can be delivered is by returning to open public tender for all operational work. Contractors, community groups, helicopter companies and academic's wishing to deliver management "input" can then all tender based on achievement and efficiency!

    This has not happened since 2017 . The contracts put out for tender have required 1080 capability from the tenderers!

    Pest control just is running in never ending circles biting its tail feeding academics. Helicopter companies and poison manufacturing companies -one of them the government itself. You are right 5 /10 !

  6. Tricledrown 6

    Compared to National 11 out of 10 Nick Smith the greatest environmental disaster in modern history.Smith single handedly allowed massive expansion of Dairy farming polluting most rivers admitting it would take 75 years to clean up our waterways.

    Any other industrial business would have been shut down and bankrupted by fines.

    • bwaghorn 6.1

      Not wanting to let smith off the hook but dairy expansion has been at full speed since atleast the 1980s (fuck I'm getting old!!!)

      It was under the Clark government that they started pulling all the central north island pine forests out for dairy.

  7. Stuart Munro 7

    Not seeing a lot of progress myself – the only predator free initiatives with really good outcomes are the community based ones, like Dawn Chorus, which are prospering in some areas.

    Not a fan of mass aerial poisoning.

    The rivers project is a fail – nitrate levels need to come down.

    Nothing real on global warming.

    A tiny proportion of Shane Jone's tree planting might do some good – but most are short cycle exotic timber blocks.

    So a bureaucratic, but not a public success.

    • Janet 7.1

      Yes , community groups of unprofessional enthusiastic volunteers are getting good results in small areas on specialised projects…till their enthusiam runs out , but they and their results in pest control generally are not even a close match ,when compared to the area one professional pest controller can cover and the results he can achieve.

      Pest control management in NZ is being compromised by big business interests, academic egos and DOC,s short sightedness in mustering up (cheap) volunteers, starting up new trainees programs etc. all instead of simply returning to tendering out blocks for pest control. Currently our very experienced , professional pest controllers all over NZ are not where they should be … in the forests, Since 2017 they have been sidelined into the "out of work."category. Most of them live in rural New Zealand.

      • Stuart Munro 7.1.1

        DoC used to have their own specialists back in the day, a few rounds of cost-cutting back. It's the knowledge of these former workers which drives much of the public scepticism of the current crude mass-kill approaches.

        I'm sure that pest destruction folk would adopt integrated strategies – if only they could be rid of the worthless faux-commercial managerial clowns responsible for the current debacle.

  8. Sabine 8

    How well did the companies do that cover the country side in 1080? That is how well conservation does.
    Also lets rip out blackberry to encourage the growth of convulus and kudzu.

  9. PaddyOT 9

    And a big fat zero out of a million for the little boy who claims his roots from Oparure in Ngati Maniapoto on his facebook posting ( July 2020 ). Dame Rangimarie would have been ashamed with Bridges selling out on his own mana whenua.

    " Simon confessed – he didn't realise he was opening up protected New Zealand Land including 96% of Pureora Forest Park, a forest which is described by the Department of Conservation as “a hidden wonderland of tall trees, clear rivers and rare wildlife”.

    If you've ever been in Pureora forest park and knew of its pre-colonial history, not only being incredibly unique in the world for its species and of its physical and sacred importance; then knew of Pureora's long history of decimation, you would then know that this National government is malignant and wilfully putting its interests with big corporates first.

    https://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/PA1405/S00129/pureora-forest-park-should-never-be-mined.htm

    The pursuit of getting back to economic growth overides that lovely word 'conservation' . Economic growth is the killer. What is forgotten is that economic growth is a fruitless, finite task, never to be achieved in the near future because the resources stolen from 'the people of the commons' and then annihilated are finite resources for capitalism to continue to thrive on too.

    The part of the RMA, fostering engagement with Māori, or any people, means nothing in pursuit of wealth.

    The following video is one a 7 year old showed me yesterday from their current school "sustainability" studies. They are not studying politics ! If the grandchild gets the idea already, who really is responsible and has the power to keep future dreams alive ? Saving a bird isn't the problem only an ambulance.

    NZ and the world wouldn't need "conservation" if man was not here. That the problem was merely seen as Labour's to fix or have failed at by giving a score, then we all fail again.

    The powerful BigBoys rule.

    https://www.nfrt.org.nz/pureora-too-precious-to-mine/

  10. Draco T Bastard 10

    On Wednesday, the High Court in Wellington heard the New Zealand Tahr Foundation’s request for a judicial review of the DOC’s tahr cull programme which it said was “indiscriminate”, and that there had been a lack of consultation.

    I'd say that that was poor judgement on the behalf of the environment as the New Zealand Tahr Foundation doesn't actually have a right to be consulted in removing pests. In fact, according to that article, the number of Tahr is estimated to be ~30,000 above allowed numbers.

    And, of course, nothing more about the Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary since NZFirst nixed it.

    • Ad 10.1

      The 1993 Himalayan Tahr Control Plan set the total allowed Tahr population in the central South Island mountains at 10,000 animals.

      Legislation allows for a managed population of up to 10,000 tahr across Crown pastoral leases, private land and public conservation land to co-exist with our native species.

      It's about 30,000 now.

      Well beyond the ability of recreational hunters to keep them from exploding.

      • Draco T Bastard 10.1.1

        I'd say that the population has already exploded. The article says this:

        “The first of those reported the total number of tahr on public conservation land in the period between 2016 and 2018 to be estimated at 34,292, representing a 95 per cent confidence interval in a range between 24,777 and 47,461 animals.”

        And, of course, the business person says that they need more than the legally mandated maximum of 10,000 for a tourism that's now not happening.

      • Graeme 10.1.2

        The irony of the tahr situation is that a cull back down to 10,000 would improve the trophy value of the heard.

        Prior to the culls in 70's for meathunting and in 80's for conservation the heads weren't up to much. Following the reduction in numbers heads improved and very good trophy heads became common and an industry developed around hunting them and servicing those hunters. At the top end there's big money involved getting trophy animals, even with New Zealanders.

        While there's lots of marketing stories of 13 -14" bulls being seen on some blocks, there's not many heads in that league coming off the hill. Plenty of sub-trophy bulls, which make it very easy for general hunter to get a tahr. An elite hunter I work with spent two weeks on a very good block this year and didn't fire a shot, saw an awful lot of animals, but nothing he thought worth shooting. There's that many animals there they are overstocked and aren't developing properly.

        It probably won't be long before there's moves from the top end guides to have the population reduced to improve the quality of the heads. They get good money for a 13" bull, and plenty of customers, but not so much when the best they can provide is 10-12"

  11. Maurice 11

    In its native habitat, Thar now survives only as remnant populations due to hunting and habitat loss. The most viable and easily protected population is in New Zealand – about half the Thar in the World live here … so lets destroy them and help wipe out the species?

    Now THAT is real 'conservation'

    • Andre 11.1

      Reducing the population down to 10,000 in order to give native ecosystems a break from the damage they do is not helping to wipe out the species.

    • Draco T Bastard 11.2

      How about we catch them and export them back?

      Would anybody pay for their repatriation?

    • greywarshark 11.3

      Exaggeration Maurice – good for a gossip but we try to think things out here.

      • McFlock 11.3.1

        It's the horses and the auckland Island pigs all over again.

        NZ loves to threaten globally unique populations on the grounds that they weren't here before Cook and Tasman.

        Next we'll be Jurassic-parking the Haast eagle, and looking askance at anyone who thinks it might be a bad idea (although it would also be a fucking awesome idea, as long as we release it in Australia. That country's already full of "fuck nope" animals, anyway).

        • Draco T Bastard 11.3.1.1

          NZ loves to threaten globally unique populations on the grounds that they weren't here before Cook and Tasman.

          True.

          The problem is that people think conservation is about protecting the species that are/were there already rather than protecting the environment so that what species are there can evolve into a new balance.

          After the Māori wiped out the Moā Australia, with its emus, would be about the only place where the Haast Eagle could fulfil its diet.

      • Maurice 11.3.2

        … so there is no 'policy' to be "pest free" by 2050?

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