21 Dec 2015

Call for DOC funding boost

8:54 am on 21 December 2015

New Zealand's biodiversity is going backwards and will continue to decline unless the Department of Conservation (DOC) gets a much needed funding boost, say conservation scientists and environmental groups.

North Island brown kiwi

North Island brown kiwi. Photo: Supplied: Scimex

RNZ News understands DOC's funding is being considered.

DOC received $353 million in the 2015 Budget - a figure Environmental Defence Society chief executive Gary Taylor said had flatlined.

He said it was not a lot of money given the size of the job that DOC had to do.

"They manage a third of New Zealand, and in that management they provide a host of tourist facilities, tracks, huts, interpretation centres, visitor centres and so on.

"They're also advocates for nature on private land and also in our very extensive marine environment.

"So basically it's a huge task and I don't think that budget is right-sized for the task and hasn't been for some years which is why we're seeing enormous pressures starting to manifest themselves in bad outcomes."

Mr Taylor pointed to the proliferation of pests and weeds throughout New Zealand in the DOC estate in the North and South islands.

"We're only managing a small proportion of our native forests for pest management and we need to do more there because we've still got species' decline in New Zealand, we're going backwards in spite of a lot of good effort, [based on] current of rate of decline, the kiwi will be functionally extinct on the mainland by mid-century."

Environmental Defence Society chief executive Gary Taylor.

Environmental Defence Society chief executive Gary Taylor. Photo: Supplied

He said taking into account DOC's core competencies such as its advocacy role and its scientific capacity, which he said had been diluted over the years, it needed an injection of funding.

Fewer dunes, wetlands

In a recent State of the Environment report, the Ministry for the Environment revealed sand dunes covered less than 20 percent of the area they covered in the 1950s, and only 10 percent of wetlands remained from before European settlement.

It also showed 72 percent of freshwater fish were at risk or threatened, as were more than 80 percent of New Zealand's living bird species and 90 percent of lizard species.

Victoria University Associate Professor of conservation science Wayne Linklater said there was no doubt DOC could be more effective if it had more money.

"I think it's clear that we're not actually making progress in biodiversity," he said.

DOC was focussing on a few case studies out of necessity in order to "try and get some runs on the board", Dr Linklater said.

They had had some good success, such as with the Chatham Island Black Robin and the Kakapo, in the past few years.

"But if you consider biodiversity across the nation, in all contexts, our common biodiversity is dwindling and there are many less common species that are drifting into threatened status and so on, so the average is that we're not doing well."

Dr Linklater said a few species of kiwi had been managed from going extinct but he pointed out that they were now conservation reliant.

University of Auckland biological sciences senior lecturer James Russell said DOC's funding over the past few years had affected the amount of conservation estate it could look after and maintain to the standard that was required.

"Certainly when we look at the recent State of the Environment report we see that we're not getting the wins that we need to really to turn the biodiversity loss into a gain, so it certainly seems clear that much more investment in the Department of Conservation is required."

Core player in tourism

Mr Taylor said the department was a core player in the country's tourist industry which was a big part of New Zealand's economy, and funding for DOC should be part of the Government's business growth agenda.

Of DOC's budget, $141.7m went towards maintaining tracks and recreational facilities.

Mr Taylor said he had recently asked Prime Minister John Key for an injection of $50m into the department's budget, and that he had requested a follow-up meeting for the beginning of next year.

Caucus run 21/07/15

Conservation Minister Maggie Barry. Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

Conservation Minister Maggie Barry declined to be interviewed but in a statement said she believed DOC's future was bright, and there were several initiatives underway such as the $11.2 million Budget 2015 commitment to kiwi, and the ongoing War on Weeds, which would lead to significant achievements.

She said she was always involved in discussions around funding with her Cabinet colleagues.

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