April the first marks the anniversary of a watershed moment for conservation in New Zealand. Thirty years ago, on 1 April 1987, the Department of Conservation (DOC) was born from the merger of the conservation aspects of the Forest Service, the Department of Lands and Survey and the Wildlife Service.
Many DOC offices will celebrate with a birthday barbeque with former staff, friends and local communities. There will be a step back in time to remember the shared history and achievements from 30 years of active conservation.
The creation of DOC 30 years ago, was a national declaration that New Zealand was a country that valued its nature, its wildlife and its remaining wild places, and that we were committed to protecting it for future generations.
At the time of DOC’s formation, New Zealand’s relationship with its environment was changing. The prevailing philosophy of resource management and development was challenged by a grass-roots swell of activism reflecting the public’s opposition to the ongoing destruction of irreplaceable natural heritage in the name of short-term development.
In 1987, the current Director General of Conservation, Lou Sanson, was a senior ranger with Lands and Survey.
‘Since its beginning, DOC has made headlines for its world-leading efforts in protecting natural values and providing recreation opportunities. All the key conservation milestones over the last 30 years in New Zealand have been achieved with great teams of DOC staff and their supportive communities.’ says Director General Lou Sanson.
‘The social environment has changed and the value of nature is more widely recognised. DOC continues to work with its communities of interest to provide access, make everyone welcome and protect New Zealand’s wild places.’
There are several key milestones that stand out for DOC over the last 30 years. In particular, the solid relationship with its Treaty Partners has enabled conservation to spill out beyond its defined boundaries and encompass a wider more holistic approach.
Over the last 30 years, an area three times the size of Stewart Island has been added to the conservation estate as well as more than 40 Marine Reserves. There have been vast improvements in recreation management and the establishment of the Great Walks as popular outdoor experiences. Pest control methodology that allows landscape scale predator control and better management of threatened species has reduced the level of threat for many species and has brought back some species from the brink of extinction.
DOC can’t face these conservation challenges alone. Recently the Department’s strategy has incorporated active partnerships. These partnerships range from grass-roots community groups making a local difference, to commercial partnerships with some of New Zealand’s largest companies.
The growth in tourism is supporting regional prosperity, and brings its fair share of challenges too. Protecting our nature while connecting a growing number of people to it, is one of the challenges facing DOC. Inclusive visions like Predator Free 2050 will help to shape the way forward for DOC.
The bond between everyday New Zealanders and our natural heritage is now stronger than ever. Our nature is at the heart of our national identity. It’s also the foundation of our international brand. The beauty and vitality of our nature drives our national wellbeing and is what we’re famous for on the world stage.
The fundamental question is, ‘How can humans live and thrive within the bounds of nature?’ In New Zealand, DOC and communities are shaping up for the challenges ahead to protect and preserve this country’s priceless nature.