In the “Statement of Intent 2007 – 2010

INTRODUCTION

The context within which the Department operates is set by both the natural and social environment. Conservation happens in communities and it happens because people want it to happen. The Department both responds to, and influences, the ways New Zealanders see conservation. The challenge and opportunity is to deepen and broaden the value that people see in conservation, so that more people will become more environmentally aware and environmentally active.

Two factors make it particularly important at this time to build a wider support base and pursue conservation outcomes within a wider context. Firstly, the task of preserving New Zealand’s unique plants, animals and places is too great for the Department to tackle alone. Second, the challenges posed by climate change highlight the need to integrate environmental considerations alongside social and economic factors, in pursuit of a sustainable future for New Zealand.

The Department’s core business is, and will continue to be, the protection of New Zealand’s natural and historic heritage while enabling appropriate access for its use and enjoyment. This work is conducted within the mandate set by Parliament. That has not changed. The differences will be in the approach and the emphasis, as the Department increasingly looks to work with others within a broader goal of sustainability. This work requires constructive engagement, explaining and listening, sharing expertise and being open to the knowledge and views of others in the pursuit of new solutions to shared problems.

The context for conservation is also changing because of the growing realisation of the significance and the range of ecosystem services that flow from conservation. Ecosystem services are natural processes that benefit humans through the goods and services they produce. The benefits that flow from the Department’s management of Te Papanui Conservation Park in Otago are a clear example. The park was originally secured in order to protect a representative example of the ecosystems and original landscape of the Waipori Ecological District. It also provided recreational opportunities and access to historic and cultural heritage. In addition to these “traditional” conservation values, protection of the tussocks and wetlands of Te Papanui provides rural and urban communities in Otago with regulated water flow from snow melt and rain. That water is used to generate electricity, for rural irrigation, and for Dunedin’s industrial and domestic supply.

Maintaining the natural environment of Te Papanui also promotes healthy soil structure and provides flood and erosion control, all of which supports the continued economic and social well-being of Otago communities.

ENVIRONMENTAL CONTEXT

Overview

Geographic isolation has been the main influence on New Zealand’s natural, historic and cultural heritage. For indigenous flora and fauna, isolation has been both a boon and a burden. For most of the past 70–80 million years, New Zealand’s flora and fauna evolved separately from the influences of other places and humans. Unique plants and animals evolved, but once humans arrived, many species were vulnerable to the rapid changes that ensued, in particular those caused by land clearance and the introduction of new species.

The effect of introduced species, some of which out-compete indigenous flora and fauna, has been dramatic and rapid. Animal and plant pests are the main threat to the survival of indigenous biodiversity, hence the Department’s emphasis on pest and weed control.

While conservation on land is well established in New Zealand, there is increasing pressure on coastal and marine environments. Estuaries, harbours and inshore marine areas are being degraded by land run-off, harvesting, mining and other activities, such as coastal development. The Department has an important role in working towards establishing a fully representative network of marine protected areas, and managing marine reserves. Reducing or eliminating pressures in these areas will safeguard marine biodiversity in its natural state, allowing natural marine ecosystems to regenerate, while providing opportunities for New Zealanders to appreciate and enjoy these environments.

Risks, Challenges and Opportunities

The review of the first five years of the New Zealand Biodiversity Strategy confirms that, despite some gains towards stemming biodiversity losses, the state of New Zealand’s biodiversity continues to decline. The review identified broader trends that require more attention. These include the ongoing loss of rare and threatened biodiversity on private lands; and serious declines in the status of many threatened species. Animal pests and weeds continue to have adverse impacts on threatened species and forest ecosystems, and pest fish and aquatic weeds are continuing to spread. Economic drivers favour degradation, rather than active maintenance, of many ecosystems, such as wetlands and marine habitats.

The single greatest threat to New Zealand’s biodiversity is the arrival of a new pest or weed, such as didymo, that creates an even greater impact than existing ones. Land clearance, fire, wetland drainage and other human-induced activities also threaten natural, historic and cultural heritage. Water extraction and nutrient run-off affect freshwater quality and quantity, and thus both terrestrial and freshwater habitats.

Preventing the decline in the state of coastal inshore waters and in the offshore marine environment is a key challenge. Setting aside vulnerable habitats, and key habitats for species at risk, such as Hector’s dolphins and albatross and petrel species, is critical to safeguarding New Zealand’s numerous unique marine species. By-kill in fisheries continues to pose a serious threat to some protected species, such as the New Zealand sea lion, and various seabird species. Marine invaders introduced primarily on ships’ hulls and in ballast water, such as Undaria pinnatifida, can seriously impact on New Zealand’s marine biodiversity and marine farms.

There will be further risks and challenges to New Zealand’s natural heritage as a result of climate change. New Zealand’s unique plants and animals may find it difficult to survive in their existing habitats, and warmer temperatures will amplify the threats posed by exotic pests. Opportunities also arise from increasing awareness of, and concern about, climate change, as New Zealanders look towards more sustainable ways of living. There are opportunities to focus on sustainable options in response to the ever-increasing demand for water resources and electricity generation. Increasing numbers of tourists add to the economic benefits derived from conservation, while also creating risks and challenges to the very environments that draw them to New Zealand.

Managing Risks, Challenges and Opportunities

Much of the Department’s work is focused on slowing the rate of loss, or reducing the risk of damage. While it is understood that significant conservation challenges to biodiversity come from the impacts of introduced pests, the specific understanding required to respond to critical factors is not clear in all cases. Solving these puzzles presents a huge challenge. The Department is continuing to develop effective, efficient and publicly acceptable control tools. The Department is also developing better measuring and reporting tools that will help
it understand how and where it can improve the effectiveness of its interventions.

Achieving protection in the coastal inshore marine environment is a significant priority that remains a challenge in the face of competing uses. To this end, the Department is contributing to the development of an environmental framework for the EEZ, and working to enhance the rate of establishment of marine protected areas. The Department is working with the Ministry of Fisheries and the fishing industry to address the threats to protected species from by-kill of protected species in fisheries.

New Zealand’s isolation presents an opportunity to manage biosecurity risks and avoid the introduction of new pest species. The Department is fulfilling its responsibilities under the reorganised national biosecurity system, led by the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MAF), by delivering a significant amount of site-led and regional weed-led pest management programmes, and providing advice about biosecurity risks to indigenous species and ecosystems.

Areas of Departmental focus in support of the New Zealand Biodiversity Strategy are the protection of rare and threatened ecosystems, and the protection of the most at-risk species, particularly on private land if these are critically-endangered, as well as the continued emphasis on pest and weed control in terrestrial locations.

Although much of the Department’s contribution to improving the state of the environment can be done while still carrying out its traditional role, it must find other ways to help it achieve the required outcomes. In working to promote the widest possible gains for conservation, the Department is working to continue and enhance partnerships with iwi, local government and communities.

The immensity of the biodiversity conservation challenges makes prioritisation critical, and this may mean that it is appropriate, even essential, to reduce work in some areas in order to make a more effective contribution in others.

ECONOMIC CONTEXT

Overview

Retaining New Zealand’s natural and historic resources in a healthy state is critical to maintaining the foundation for sustainable economic growth, and social cohesion and well-being. By means of ecological processes such as soil formation, nutrient cycling and pollination, healthy ecosystems provide goods and services such as fresh water, carbon recycling, soil maintenance, and flood and erosion control. These ecosystem services are vital to economic prosperity. Healthy ecosystems, good environmental management, and protected natural places provide the backdrop for the clean green brand that is critical to the success of New Zealand producers in a competitive global market place.

Tourism earnings are now one of the country’s most significant foreign exchange earners, accounting for one in ten jobs, and close to 10% of New Zealand’s gross domestic product. Heritage-based tourism is a key growth area in the economy, and a significant portion of it is based on conservation lands and waters. The Department’s work is, therefore, critical in supporting the nation’s economic growth, as many small businesses directly or indirectly involved with nature-based tourism depend on the quality of conservation lands and waters for their livelihood.

New Zealand is seeking a wider range of sustainable energy sources, with increasing interest in exploring potential sources on conservation land, including wind, hydro and mineral.

More businesses are looking at ways they can contribute to conservation. Some are setting up to make conservation their business; others are providing various forms of sponsorship; and increasing numbers are adapting their practices to tread more lightly on the environment, and balance their carbon emissions.

Allowing grazing farmland to revert to natural vegetation helps increase carbon stocks and regulate water flow. Much of the South Island high country land that has become public conservation land through tenure review and purchases by the Nature Heritage Fund is suitable for such natural revegetation and the establishment of native shrub-land and forest.

The management of plant-eating pests and grazing animals in conservation areas also helps mitigate the effects of climate change by supporting regeneration and reducing methane emissions, which in turn helps to recycle carbon dioxide.

Risks, Challenges and Opportunities

The rural sector is being challenged by shifts in land use, risks from disease and pest incursions, and by water security and flood risks. Some agricultural developments (for example, the growth of dairy farming, viticulture and aquaculture) are increasing the pressure for resource use and affecting land and water quality.

The Department’s revenue stream outside Government contributions is influenced by economic conditions. In the concessions area, revenue is likely to continue to increase, primarily through increasing international tourism, while the revenue from the remaining pockets of exotic forestry in conservation areas will continue to fluctuate with the market.

Demand for concessions to operate on conservation areas is increasing. In 2006, there were 4,139 concessions in place around the country, 700 more than in 2000. As tourism grows, the challenge to protect special places while allowing people to enjoy them becomes more difficult. The number of people is increasing at all sites, especially more accessible areas, with overseas visitors contributing to most of the growth. Visitor impacts are focused on a few key locations of great economic significance to the tourism industry. Managing these sites effectively is a major challenge facing the Department.

Determining the cumulative impacts on the environment from tourism developments and recreation, and providing an increasing range of quality recreational experiences are ongoing challenges.

Managing Risks, Challenges and Opportunities

Significant opportunities exist in how the Department manages the tension between meeting demands for development and growth, while protecting natural, historic and cultural values, and preserving opportunities for future generations.

The Department is entering a new phase of defining the contribution it can make to New Zealand’s economy, well-being, and identity. Studies of the economic value of conservation are being undertaken, particularly focusing on the contribution of ecosystem services. The Department’s day-to-day work means it is in a unique position to contribute to the development of environmental management technologies. As manager of one-third of New Zealand’s land area, the Department has significant potential to help offset greenhouse gas emissions, especially through using animal pest control and replanting to promote revegetation.

The Department is a major contributor to the New Zealand Tourism Strategy 2010, and especially to its first goal of securing and conserving a long-term future. The Department has a crucial role to play in managing a world-class visitor experience while ensuring the value of the natural environment is recognised and its sustainability protected, supported and promoted. The need to monitor visitor impacts is recognised, and the Department has moved towards a more systematic approach to limiting concession activity in conservation areas. Limits to use are being used more commonly, and are embedded in legal documents, such as national park management plans. However, ongoing tensions between visitor growth and conservation management are likely to continue.

SOCIAL AND CULTURAL CONTEXT

Overview

Protected natural places provide the essence of our national identity, and are key contributors to our physical, mental and emotional well-being. Many New Zealanders have a close association with the nation’s natural, historic and cultural heritage through their work, recreational interests, community involvements and whanau. The Conservation Act requires the Department to provide for the appreciation and enjoyment of natural and historic heritage, and to safeguard it for future generations. Building strong public support for, and involvement in, conservation is critical to achieving these outcomes and reinforces the need for interested communities to be involved in conservation management decisions and actions.

Maori have particular relationships with the land and water, a fact recognised by the Conservation Act. Effective conservation relationships with tangata whenua at the local level, and in relation to specific places, are important to conservation gains.

Changing demographics are likely to be matched by a shift in people’s needs and their expectations of the Department. New Zealand’s population (currently 4.0 million) is expected to rise to around 4.5 million by 2027. The growth rate will be faster among Maori and Pacific peoples and it is expected there will be increased immigration to New Zealand by Asian peoples. Most of this growth is likely to be north of Taupo.

The increasing commitment to conservation work by regional and local authorities, iwi, community trusts and groups, non-governmental organisations, business interests and individuals is broadening the conservation context in which the Department works. While the Department’s core responsibility is to manage the lands and coastal-marine areas entrusted to its stewardship, it must also determine the nature and extent of its roles in leading, guiding and facilitating conservation work generally. This involves establishing the priorities and working effectively with others, on and off public conservation land.

The Department also has roles in the international context, with increasing requirements to contribute to international agreements and conservation initiatives. Appendix 1 provides a list of international conventions and agreements to which the Department contributes.

In contrast, at a local, Area Office level, staff members are frequently the government representatives closest to hand to support a community’s first response to an emergency. This finds staff doing search and rescue, clearing snow, pumping water from flooded homes and fighting rural fires. Such activities are an essential element of working within, and being part of, local communities.

Risks, Challenges and Opportunities

People are increasingly initiating conservation activities outside the Department’s work. This provides opportunities, and also challenges the Department’s ability to satisfy increasing expectations. The opportunities centre on developing ways to work together with others, and to encourage both greater conservation achievements and greater appreciation of conservation and its role in society and the economy. Challenges and risks exist because the Department must always focus on its core responsibility of being an effective manager of the lands, waters, species, historic places and roles entrusted to it. Effective management requires prioritisation. Resources are not sufficient to both actively manage all the areas, species or populations valued by communities, and to meet national ecological priorities.

Changing population demographics present new opportunities to engage non-traditional audiences in conservation, and to develop responses to different value sets. Demographic changes and increasing global competition for skilled workers also present challenges for developing and maintaining the skills and knowledge that will be required.

Managing Risks, Challenges and Opportunities

The Department’s prioritisation systems take account of social values as well as ecological considerations. However, there will be times when the Department cannot meet local aspirations because of national priorities. At other times there will be a very good match of social and ecological values, and modes of collaborative working will be developed that expand both community and environmental benefits. The Department must clearly communicate the choices it makes, and explain why and how it has made these choices, and why it cannot meet all expectations.

In the course of its core work, the Department develops skills, capability, knowledge, and tools that lead to improvements. The Department will continue to use these to lead, guide, and facilitate conservation work generally. This means being an open and enabling organisation that relates to conservation challenges, both in the areas that the Department administers and elsewhere, as well as actively sharing tools and processes to assist others who are working in conservation.

The Department is starting the process for reviewing the Conservation Management Strategies. These strategies are developed under the Conservation Act for the purposes of implementing the Conservation General Policy, the General Policy for National Parks and the NZ Walkways Policy, and to establish objectives for the integrated management of natural and historic resources managed by the Department, and for recreation, tourism and other conservation purposes. This process provides significant opportunities for engagement with both the local conservation boards and the wider communities in each conservancy.

The Minister of Conservation represents the Crown, as owner of public foreshore and seabed, and has coastal and marine responsibilities under the Resource Management Act. New laws covering aquaculture development provide an opportunity to improve management of this activity. The NZ Coastal Policy Statement is under review to provide improved direction to local authorities.

The Department’s ability to meet public expectations has been boosted over the past seven years by increased funding for new conservation work. Key Government initiatives are:

  • In 2000, a $187 million package over five years, to increase biodiversity outcomes under the New Zealand Biodiversity Strategy. Most of this funding was allocated to the Department of Conservation and is now incorporated into the Department's base funding and the Department's contribution is now reflected in its natural heritage work.
  • In 2002, a $349 million package over 10 years to maintain visitor opportunities.
  • In 2004, $5 million per annum was provided for South Island high country objectives and South Island wilding pine control.

The inherent risks of working in remote and hazardous areas are managed by the ongoing improvement of standard systems that meet the Department’s legal obligations towards health and safety of employees and the public. A complementary challenge is encouraging people to accept that natural hazards occur in the outdoors, and that they need to take responsibility for their own safety.

To maintain its future capability, the Department must ensure it transfers and retains the knowledge of older workers, while providing for changing community needs and expectations. A predicted increase in senior vacancies is an opportunity to broaden the diversity of groups at that level.

back to top

Back to top