To: Hon Kate Wilkinson, Minister of Conservation
Date: 20 August 2010
Thank you for your letter of 30 June 2010 enclosing the recommendations you have received for setting up a New Zealand Game Animal Council and allocating responsibilities to it pertaining to the management of wild animals. They contemplate a separate game animal management and statutory planning regime, in parallel with the statutory planning regime in the Conservation Act.
The New Zealand Conservation Authority discussed this matter at length at its meeting last week and concluded that the concerns that it had already advised you of in its letter of last December remain. Those concerns focused on the potential effects on indigenous biodiversity, process, governance and the public interest. It suggested that, if the Government wished to establish such a body, it should be non-statutory. Attached is a copy of that letter for your reference.
The Authority acknowledges that hunting is a popular activity in New Zealand and considers it important that common ground is sought with hunting interests. In pursuit of that goal there is a role in New Zealand for a body to co-ordinate hunting and game groups, resolve internal conflicts, liaise with external agencies and provide advice. Whether a statutory body is necessary to achieve this is debatable.
If you are convinced of the necessity of a statutory body, the Authority considers that the confidence and supply agreement with United Future to “proceed with the establishment of a Big Game Hunting Council as part of a national wild game management strategy with a view to it becoming a statutory authority” could be fulfilled by appointing a National Recreational Hunting Advisory Committee under section 29 of the Wild Animal Control Act. It should encompass the range of hunting interests in a balanced way, and would have advisory and educative functions. The Authority opposes the Committee being given any statutory management or decision-making functions as this would certainly undermine the Department’s management of conservation resources.
The Authority envisages a National Recreational Hunting Advisory Committee could contribute to the control and management of wild animals by reflecting the consensus views of both recreational and commercial hunting interests in any advice given to you, regional councils, the Department of Conservation and the Authority. The Authority envisages the Committee would be appointed by, and directly accountable, to you.
The Authority does not support the suggested model, in which the members are accountable only to hunters, as it is inappropriate for a public resource and conservation pest, and contrary to achieving a national wild game management strategy.
The Authority considers that the recommendations you have received from the GAC Establishment Committee are unacceptable in many respects but I will focus below on what it considers the most problematic.
Approach to policy and regulatory change
All great policy errors start with a failure to define the problem properly. In their present form, the GAC proposals display this hallmark. For their underlying rationale, they focus narrowly on a perception that DoC is unfriendly to hunting. Defining the problem properly is not a quick and easy task but it is essential to get the starting point right. The “problem”, if it exists, is much more complicated. It seems to involve a fundamental conflict between a particular form of recreational activity (that is sometimes carried out in a commercial relationship consisting of hunter and guide), and the effects of that recreation on the orderly management of public land held for conservation purposes.
The approach taken in the proposal to establish a New Zealand Game Animal Council marks a significant departure from the public policy convention of objective policy, cost-benefit analysis, regulatory assessment, and transparent public consultation. As a result, the outcomes proposed by the GAC Establishment Committee lack balance.
Whole of Government functions
The GAC Establishment Committee recommendations have major implications not only for the Biosecurity Act but also the Conservation and National Parks Acts and the New Zealand Biodiversity Strategy. The recommendations envisage a fundamental shift in the philosophical approach of New Zealand to its native plants and animals relative to introduced animals. The current legislative context favours native plants and animals and the statements of general policy for public conservation land support the goal of healthy ecosystems which deliver wide ranging benefits to all New Zealanders. The GAC Establishment Committee recommendations may purport to contribute to those goals but they are on the terms of one interest group only.
You will be aware that your colleague the Minister of Biosecurity, through his Ministry’s current Pest Management Proposed National Plan of Action 2010-2035, is signalling an intention to “review the effect of the suite of Acts that control the operation of pest management systems in New Zealand”1 , and is proposing some specific amendments of some of those Acts, including the Wild Animal Control Act. The purpose of a review is to enable more efficient and effective means of managing pests in New Zealand by better integration and co-ordination of roles. The GAC Establishment Committee proposal is in conflict with this whole-of-Government review process as it would give a narrow group of people power to enhance a pest species without responsibility for the environmental effects.
The Authority considers it would be inappropriate to make any decisions on the GAC Establishment Committee’s recommendations which may hamper the Government’s consideration of the recommendations arising out of the Future of Pest Management process.
Integrated conservation management
The statutory planning regime in the Conservation Act 1987 and the Conservation General Policy under the Act focuses on the “integrated management of natural and historic resources, including any species … [under specified Acts] … and for recreation, tourism and other conservation purposes”: s.17D (1).
The GAC Establishment Committee recommends “clearly separating the responsibilities of DoC and the GAC, with legislative changes made to underpin that separation.” It could be described as a move from “integrated management” to “fragmented management”.
Many of the high profile wild animal populations inhabit national parks and other public conservation lands. The recommendations would have the Department of Conservation managing those areas for conservation purposes with another body managing a major and damaging resource within some or most of those areas for contrary purposes.
We are very disturbed at the ‘writing down’ of conservation values in the committee’s report, and the assumption that not all of public conservation lands are required for conservation purposes. Wild animals detract from the ecosystem services provided by indigenous ecosystems through accelerating erosion and contributing to green house gas emissions.
The Animal Health Board also identifies that feral deer and pigs may spread tuberculosis. Given the investment to date and the demonstrated effectiveness of this national programme, this would raise major concerns with farmers, create export market risks, and real concern with public health authorities.
We believe that giving a body statutory powers as is proposed, will create an additional obstacle to the use of 1080 and other toxins and methods for the control of pests, as it entrenches and legitimizes a body of opinion opposed to it.
The Authority opposes any change to the legislative framework for the control and management of wild animals which reduces the current balance of advantage in favour of native plants and animals and the maintenance of healthy ecosystems, and their control and management on public conservation lands by the Department of Conservation within its integrated conservation management objective.
The Authority believes the GAC Establishment Committee’s recommendations will generate increasing conflicts, escalate costs, and undermine the statutory objective of integrated management of public conservation land. The present Act strikes a careful balance of the full range of values and interests associated with the conservation estate.
The body responsible for wild animals as recommended by the GAC Establishment Committee would have no real accountability to you or Parliament, since its members are not appointed by you; nor is it likely to give balanced consideration to the wider public interests or the interests of Maori.
The recommendations of the GAC Establishment Committee may result in increased compliance costs for hunters and a narrowing of their hunting opportunities. It also centralises management on the Council, whereas currently hunters can liaise with departmental managers at the local level and working relationships can and have been established. The Authority doubts that independent recreational hunters who are used to largely unrestricted access to hunt on public conservation land, with a free-of-charge permit, will accept the controls on their activities inherent in the recommendations. Informal enquiries reveal that the GAC Establishment Committee process and the recommendations you have before you are not widely known amongst recreational hunters including Maori, many of whom rely on hunting for food gathering. The consultation appears to have been highly targeted, thus predetermining the outcome.
The Authority also notes that in the context of the Pest Management Proposed National Plan of Action 2010-2035, the Cabinet paper considered the issue of statutory advisory committees in paragraphs 82-3 of that paper. The position expressed there is entirely contrary to the approach being taken in regard to a game animal council, and the Authority thinks that it would be poorly received by Maori if Government denies them statutory powers in pest management advice but gave recognition in the same field to a particular recreation interest group.
The implications for the implementation of s4 of the Conservation Act, and Treaty of Waitangi settlements have not been addressed. The proposal is also inequitable, as it seeks rights and powers to promote an individual recreational activity on public lands not extended to other interests.
Recent improvements in hunter liaison
Over the last year, the Department has worked hard to build relationships with hunters and work with them on the ground to find solutions to hunter aspirations for specific places which are consistent with conservation principles. The Department’s National Hunting Advisor is already making significant improvements to that relationship. It has amplified its hunting web pages and is nationalising and streamlining its permit issuing system to make it more convenient for hunters and thus reduce their compliance costs. If you accept the GAC Establishment Committee’s recommendation to set up an alternative management regime, you will undermine the Department’s attempts to build better relationships and dialogue with hunters and reach agreements for a way forward, having weighed competing interests.
The recommendations of the committee, particularly those related to legislative change, are not supported by the Authority because they will have negative outcomes for conservation and more than likely the majority of hunters, and are not in the public interest.
Should a statutory role be your preference, we recommend you appoint a National Recreational Hunting Advisory Committee under section 29 of the Wild Animal Control Act with advisory and educative functions only.
Thank you for giving the Authority the opportunity to advise you on this important issue.
New Zealand Conservation Authority
1 MAF Biosecurity New Zealand. June 2010. Pest Management Proposed National Plan of Action 2010-2035 p2.