For many New Zealanders our national parks and public conservation lands are part of our Kiwi identity. Up until now, we’ve reserved and protected unique landscapes, special places and habitats for native species because we’ve recognised we have a responsibility to future generations to ensure the experience of New Zealand’s natural environment remains a part of the Kiwi way of life.
But this is now changing. Increasingly, people are becoming aware that in addition to the social and environmental reasons for conservation, there is a hitherto under-recognised economic rationale.
This publication explores that economic rationale more fully, and seeks to answer some of the questions the public have been asking. It draws on the findings of studies commissioned by the Department of Conservation to assess the economic impact of Fiordland National Park, conservation lands on the West Coast, Te Papanui Conservation Park in Otago, Abel Tasman National Park, the Queen Charlotte Track in Marlborough and Tongariro National Park. Independent economic impact reports on the Mt Ruapehu skifields (in Tongariro National Park), and on the five Southern Lakes ski areas (three of which are on public conservation land) and the Cape Rodney – Okaraki Pt marine reserve are also included.
The most obvious and immediate economic impact readers will discover is the enormous contribution conservation makes to regional wealth and employment, largely through tourism. International tourism is now our single largest foreign exchange earner. Tourism, generally, is a key driver of many regional economies, and the appeal of natural attractions in New Zealand is a key driver of the industry, particularly in areas like the West Coast, Nelson-Tasman/Marlborough, and in Queenstown and Te Anau.
But this publication also outlines many of the subtler and more complex economic contributions natural environments supply, such as “ecosystem services”.
Ecosystem services are the natural processes nature provides for free, and from which we benefit. They include services like fresh water filtration and allocation, soil maintenance, erosion and flood control, and the role the environment has to play in the maintenance of food stocks, such as whitebait.
Around the world there is a growing realisation that these kinds of services actually underpin sustainable development and economic growth, and thus have a significant economic value, even though technically we don’t have to pay for them.
Many of these services are extraordinarily difficult to provide artificially, if not impossible. If we destroy the ability of natural areas to provide them, we face considerable costs and consequences in trying to replace them. For this reason, it is crucial economic markets, government policies and legislation recognise ecosystem services and their importance. To achieve that recognition, they need to be understood by the public.
One of the best ways to preserve ecosystem services is to protect important landscapes and environments that provide those services. As this publication demonstrates, public conservation lands, which span some 8 million ha, do just that. They safeguard the “natural capital” of New Zealand.
Minister of Conservation
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