The Minister of Conservation, Dr Nick Smith appointed a ministerial advisory committee to review the role and function of conservation boards in September 2013.
This committee, known as the Conservation Boards Review Panel, has considered the submissions of key stakeholders and finalised its report.
Conservation Boards Review report released Media release 9 December 2013
This is the first review conducted since conservation boards replaced national parks and reserve boards in 1990. It comes at a time when the Department of Conservation (DOC) is bedding in a significant change to the way it is structured and organised to deliver conservation outcomes.
The legislation the boards work under reflects a unique partnership between the Executive and the public. The legislation vests in the boards governance powers, for example, to approve plans, while the implementation of these plans and the fiscal responsibility for them lie with DOC. The original intent of the legislation remains valid but the review panel feels the full potential of conservation boards has yet to be realised.
The skills and expertise of boards are a positive resource that can work hand in hand with DOC in achieving greater conservation outcomes. Strong relationships must exist between DOC’s senior managers and the boards to maximise the benefit of these skills. In our discussions with the boards, these relationships were found to be variable and our expectations for a commitment to them need to be emphasised and championed.
A refresh of the systems that support the boards is required. That refresh would focus on the relationships, processes and operations of the boards, and central to it would be a new reporting framework that complemented the boards’ current annual reporting to the New Zealand Conservation Authority. This will provide a greater focus for boards in their operations while maintaining their independence.
Some issues exist around boundary changes, which the Review Panel has noted. The timeline for the review precluded detailed investigation and discussion with the boards involved but the panel has identified a pathway forward.
Summary of findings
1. Successful collaboration is essential to the effectiveness of conservation boards and to achieving conservation outcomes. The Conservation Act 1987 provisions relating to the boards envisaged collaboration between communities and conservation managers facilitated in part by conservation boards. The potential contribution of boards has only been realised in part and the panel believes that it is timely for the original vision to be reinvigorated and for the true potential of conservation boards to be realised.
2. Three building blocks are required to provide a foundation for successful collaboration:
- a new annual reporting framework, based on an annual letter (developed inb consultation with the Chair of the New Zealand Conservation Authority – NZCA) from the Minister of Conservation setting out expectations for the board for the year
- accountable Department directors to support the work of each board
- a new code of practice.
3. The relationships between boards, iwi and manawhenua1 are many faceted and include reciprocal responsibilities as Treaty of Waitangi (Treaty) partners. It is essential boards are briefed and become knowledgeable about the iwi and manawhenua, their history and traditions as well as on Treaty settlements that have implications for public conservation land. A range of relationship-building measures is available to boards to enhance relationships with iwi and manawhenua.
4. Boards need to connect with iwi, manawhenua, community and volunteer groups and provide advice to the Department on partnership arrangements. The boards’ role is not so much to build partnerships but to advise on local issues and circumstances and act as a point of connection between the community and the Department.
5. The Conservation Act 1987 sets up a limited governance role for conservation boards and a system of checks and balances for their relationship with the Department. Integrated planning and establishing integrated objectives for public conservation land are the most important functions for conservation boards. Boards are the final approving authority for conservation management plans (CMPs), and the boards participate in the development of conservation management strategies (CMSs) and national park management plans.
6. National park management plans should not be amalgamated, because each park is unique, but planning processes should be coordinated. Integration can be achieved by developing the plans for adjoining parks concurrently and requiring integration of relevant objectives.
7. By acting as a ‘community voice’, conservation boards have an important contribution to make to conservation management planning. Board consultation and approval procedures will need to be clarified to maintain and enhance this role if any changes are made to CMS boundaries.
8. The idea of having a high-level CMS for each of the North Island, South Island and outlying islands, while outside the scope of this review, nevertheless merits further consideration. The CMSs would deal with high-level strategy, and a limited number of CMPs would focus on places that needed increased management detail.
Administrative boundaries of conservation boards
9. The Department’s new operational boundaries are too large to be adopted by conservation boards. A reduction in the number of boards and adoption of larger board jurisdictions would undermine community links with the boards.
10. Most boards support the status quo in terms of size and boundaries. However, minor adjustments of boundaries could be made to preserve and enhance connections with local communities.
11. Board membership should be representative of the communities they serve. Some boards comprise members who have a keen interest in conservation but are not necessarily representative of their communities. However, it is essential that boards represent the interests of their local communities and remain relevant, providing solid support for conservation while including recreation and tourism.
12. It is important the appointment process sets boards up to succeed. The appointment process may be improved by more clearly identifying and specifying the skill set required for board members.
13. A level of dissatisfaction was expressed at the current process for appointing Māori board members, with some submitters and hui attendees holding a view that the Minister should defer to local iwi and manawhenua to determine their representation. Further, some hui attendees expressed the view there should be 50 percent iwi or manawhenua representation on all conservation boards to reflect the Treaty relationship. This may, however, require legislative amendment, which is out of scope for this review. Moreover, with the growth of co-management and co-governance arrangements, membership on a conservation board may be viewed as less important by iwi and manawhenua.
New focus on recreation
14. Recreation is a pathway to conservation. Through taking part in recreational activities and enjoying the tourist ventures available on public conservation land, citizens often gain a conservation perspective on the nation’s natural and historic heritage. Conservation boards have a role in actively fostering and promoting these activities.
15. Public forums run by the boards as part of the conservation management planning process are the ideal vehicle to reaffirm with communities the unique conservation and recreation values of an area, explore new opportunities and capture community expectations. The boards and the Department should collaborate and share data to foster these relationships.
16. The processes for allocating and monitoring contestable funds should remain with the Department and current approval bodies, to ensure consistency in allocation with national priorities.
17. The boards, however, could have an expanded role regarding grants made from the Biodiversity Fund in their jurisdiction.
18. Conservation boards suffer from a lack of visibility in some areas. Additional public forums could help raise the boards’ public profile. Publicity about these forums needs to be broadcast more widely. The forums also need to be held at times and places more accessible to the public.
19. The adequate resourcing of boards is essential if they are to realise the potential of the roles and responsibilities vested in them. An increase in operational funding will be required to enable boards to meet the new expectations under a ‘refreshed’ partnership regime. Funding should focus on facilitating further engagement with the public and allow for additional meetings and field trips.
20. Consideration needs to be given to how best deliver the board induction process for 2014, given the high number of new members who will be joining boards. The roles of the board servicing officer, in supporting board members, and Tier 3 manager are crucial to the effectiveness of conservation boards.
The Review Panel recommends that:
1. A new system of annual planning and reporting should be established for the conservation boards’ work programmes. This system should be based on an annual letter of expectations (developed in consultation with the Chair of the NZCA) from the Minister of Conservation to each board chair. The annual report from each board would comment on how expectations have been met and how the board has contributed to achieving conservation outcomes.
2. Attendance of the relevant Director Conservation Partnerships (formerly conservator) should be mandatory at board meetings and part of the annual deliverables for the position. The relevant Director Conservation Services may attend board meetings in place of, or in addition to, the Director Conservation Partnerships as required.
3. A code of practice template for conservation boards should be developed by the Director-General of Conservation in collaboration with experienced board chairs.
4. Boards should actively enhance their relationships with iwi and manawhenua through joint meetings and identification of projects of common interest.
5. Induction material should be revised to cover recent Treaty settlements, and new board members should be given the opportunity to gain knowledge of and involvement in activities that will enhance their understanding of tikanga Māori.
6. Where it is not occurring already, conservation boards engage with local iwi or manawhenua and where possible invite hapū, iwi or manawhenua representatives on field trips.
7. Boards should invest more time in building relationships, seeking community views and feeding information back to communities of interest.
8. The Department should ensure boards are resourced adequately and supported to build community relationships.
9. Boards should establish formal and informal links with iwi, manawhenua, community and volunteer groups and provide advice to the Department on partnership arrangements with them.
10. Board chairs should meet at least annually in person and then regularly (at a frequency to be determined by board chairs) for further discussion using teleconferencing or other suitable technology. The purpose of these meetings should be information sharing and up skilling, including clarification on national issues and new roles such as partnerships.
11. Inter-regional meetings between boards should be programmed on a regular basis to discuss cross-boundary issues.
12. The New Zealand Conservation Authority (NZCA), in conjunction with the responsible Deputy Director-General, should take a more active role in facilitating communication and interaction with boards including mentoring of board chairs.
13. The Minister of Conservation explore the benefits and risks of having a high-level CMS for each of the North Island, South Island and outlying islands, and develop criteria for where CMPs are needed.
14. Board consultation and approval procedures will require clarification once CMS boundaries are agreed under the new Department structure, to avoid any confusion and encourage synergies between boards.
15. National park management plans should not be amalgamated; however, national parks that share significant contiguous boundaries should review their plans concurrently so relevant policies are well integrated.
Administrative boundaries of conservation boards
16. The Minister of Conservation should reconsider the present Bay of Plenty–East Coast Conservation Board boundary and ask the Director-General of Conservation to explore, with the respective boards, the possible adoption of an amended boundary.
17. Where minor boundary adjustments will enhance community engagement with conservation boards, the Minister of Conservation should ask the Director-General of Conservation to investigate and report on their merits.
18. The Minister of Conservation should seek the advice of experienced board members on the skills and knowledge needed to create an effective board and build this into the appointment process.
19. The appointment process should be revised to ensure a wide range of nominees is sought.
20. The Minister of Conservation should consider revising the nomination process as suggested by iwi and manawhenua in connection with any future legislative change.
New focus on recreation
21. The boards should actively partner with the Department in promoting the recreational opportunities available on public conservation land.
22. The Department should engage more proactively with the boards and seek their advice in the policy development phases of new proposals and when new recreation and/or tourism issues are identified and explored.
23. The board nomination process should continue to be reviewed to encourage board representation that better reflects society’s current and emerging recreational interests and demographics as well as traditional use.
24. The processes for allocating and monitoring contestable funds should remain with the Department and current approval bodies.
25. The Director-General of Conservation should consider extending the boards’ involvement in the allocation processes for both Biodiversity funds to:
- Include their representation on the allocation committees
- Provide local comment on applications before allocations
- Allow boards to receive a schedule of approved projects
- Ensure applicants are informed of a board’s interest in the project being approved.
26. The Director-General of Conservation should advance the establishment of a regional conservation fund that could be allocated by conservation boards to enhance conservation and develop community partnerships.
27. The Minister of Conservation should discuss with the Director-General of Conservation the current board operating costs and suggest the Director-General engage with conservation board chairs to review board operating costs for the 2014/15 financial year.
28. The Minister of Conservation should note the concern expressed in submissions regarding board member fees.
29. The Minister of Conservation should request the Director-General of Conservation to review the processes in place for inducting new board members for 2014 and consider the possibility of providing training for board chairs in the chairing of meetings.
30. The Minister of Conservation should request the Director-General of Conservation to note the need for media and communications support for conservation boards in promoting the board–Department and community partnerships.