Latest meeting updates from the Chair
IntroductionNZCA Chair, Edward Ellison ONZM, gives an update on the latest meeting.
New Zealand Conservation Authority meeting December 2022
The Authority held its final meeting for the year in Wellington on 8 and 9 December 2022. The meeting agenda contained many important conservation topics that the Authority have been eagerly waiting to discuss, as well as those routine agenda items the Authority covers in preparation for next year. This meeting included a number of presentations and discussions with senior staff members both from within the Department, other government agencies and external organisations. Many of the topics discussed were for the Authority to follow-up on in the New Year. Members had an all-round productive meeting and enjoyed ending the year on a positive note.
Minister of Conservation
Hon Poto Williams, Minister of Conservation, engaged in a discussion with members on conservation topics that have been of great importance throughout the year, including Stewardship Land, the partial reviews of the General Policies, Management Planning, and the Tourism Reset; indicating that she will be seeking the Authority’s co-operation and advice at various stages regarding this work.
I informed the Minister that the Authority have agreed to lodge submissions on the newly introduced Resource Management reform Bills, the Natural and Built Environment Bill (NBE) and Spatial Planning Bill (SPA) and will be advocating strongly for marine and freshwater conservation. Additionally, the Minister advised the Authority that she will be travelling to Montreal, Canada, to attend the CBD COP15 summit, which is centred around biodiversity protection, and will report back to the Authority on work being done internationally in this field.
Director-General strategic session
Penny Nelson, Director-General of Conservation, was not able to attend the meeting, and Henry Weston has stepped in as Acting Director-General of Conservation until Penny is back in the New Year. Henry gave members an update on the Senior Leadership Team’s (SLT) Select Committee appearance on 8 December and advised that the items discussed focused on the Organisational Reset, the expanding remit of the Department’s work given the increased prioritising of climate change, pest control being the key to biodiversity success, protecting public conservation land to support the tourism industry, and improving conservation legislation to be fit-for-purpose.
It was noted that the Authority and SLT should establish a good working relationship moving forward and both groups should work towards the alignment of their priorities with the Authority being utilised as a ‘critical friend’.
Michael Bunce, the Department’s new Chief Science Advisor was also present during this session, and informed members of the great opportunity that lies in the MBIE review of science and research, Te Ara Paerangi; to consider how science and research important to conservation could be elevated, and how long-term issues, such as accessibility of data, iterative science, and monitoring, could be addressed.
Deputy Directors-General strategic sessions
The Authority has long been looking forward to a joint session with all of Penny’s new SLT, to discuss the priorities within each of their portfolios. This was a very insightful session between the Authority and each Deputy Director-General and set the foundations for a good working relationship in the future.
Tame Malcolm, Deputy Director-General Treaty Partnerships, spoke to the Authority about what it meant to be an honourable Treaty partner, and highlighted that the Department’s Te Pukenga Atawhai induction programme will be brought back in 2023. The new role of a Kaihautu / Director Treaty Capability Oversight will be responsible for exploring avenues for ongoing staff development, and the Department is working closely with Ministers to ensure the smooth resolution of Treaty Settlements.
Marie Long, Deputy Director-General National Operations and Regulatory Services, emphasised the positive impact the Office of Regulatory Services will bring to the Department, and that conservation boards could have a monitoring and reporting function under the new regulatory framework. Further discussion took place on how the management planning system can be ‘re-imagined’ in order to operate more efficiently and address the current delays in progressing the overdue management plans and strategies.
Ruth Isaac, Deputy Director-General Strategy and Policy, informed the Authority about the significant amount of work that was taking place in the policy space, especially around considering recommendations on how to incorporate co-management models into policy. It was also agreed that ahead of the General Election late next year, the Minister, Department, and the Authority will meet in January to discuss and agree how to progress recommendations for the general policies.
Henry Weston, as Deputy Director-General Regional Operations, addressed the concerns raised by the Authority on behalf of conservation boards from the Chair’s Conference held in September. Henry expressed the need to identify the value that boards have within the conservation system and noted the proper level of importance needs to be given to their roles and functions.
Mike Tully, Deputy Director-General Organisational Support, gave insight into the Department’s management of is current assets, and noted that the increased frequency and ferocity of climate events has also increased the liability of assets held by the Department. Mike informed the Authority that he is looking to optimise the revenue from the current network of assets by implementing an on-boarding and off-boarding framework to ensure the Department does not have assets bequeathed that it is unable to maintain.
The Authority arranged for a number of speakers from; the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA), the Department, Manaaki Whenua Landcare New Zealand, and Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society, to participate in a workshop on carbon sequestration and linked to the impact of ungulates (especially in our forests), thus providing for a range of different perspectives for the purpose of gaining a balanced understanding of the matter.
Members gained a much deeper understanding of how atmospheric carbon is measured and how carbon sequestration can be managed. Most importantly, the Authority were informed that carbon mitigation and reduction have no one solution, but instead require a range of conservation and scientific practices to ensure for the continued health of various natural environments.
RMS Niagara shipwreck
With strong advocacy from both the Northland and Auckland Conservation Boards regarding the RMS Niagara shipwreck, the Authority invited Nigel Clifford, Deputy Chief Executive Response, Security & Safety, at Maritime NZ, and Renny VanderVelde, Marine Pollution Response Service Manager, from Maritime New Zealand to share information on the potential development of a response plan to manage the underlying risk of environmental damages that could be caused from an oil spill.
Nigel and Renny had an in-depth question and answer session with members, sharing that currently New Zealand is only equipped to conduct immediate response plans to disasters, and relies heavily on international help for any additional work needed. As it currently stands, the shipwreck is in a difficult to reach area that is unable to be accessed by anyone but a very limited number of experienced divers. The Authority were informed that whilst there is a small but consistent leak coming from the shipwreck, the exact amount of oil contained remains unknown. Members were assured that a contingency is in place should a disaster occur.
Update on tourism issues
The Authority received an update on tourism related issues on public conservation land, specifically regarding the Milford Opportunities Project (MOP), the Tongariro Alpine Crossing (TAC), and the Ruapehu Alpine Lifts (RAL). Chris Goddard, Director Milford Opportunities Project, was also present for this session to provide a MOP specific update to members. The Authority were pleased to hear that the Department has formed a strong partnership with Ngāti Hikairo ki Tongariro and are working to implement visitor restrictions on the TAC for the 2023-24 season.
It was interesting to learn of a weak point in the Department’s issuing of concessions without the inclusion of bonds. This means that the Department is at risk of being liable for the removal of RAL infrastructure should it be abandoned by the operator. However, the Authority were assured that this risk will be mitigated in future concessions. Members thoroughly enjoyed the update and are looking forward to further developments in the new year with more regular tourism-related updates from the Department.
Next meeting – February 2023 Wellington
The Authority’s first meeting in 2023 will take place at Conservation House in Wellington on 15 and 16 February. We will be looking forward to a new year of conservation work after a well-earned break all-round. On behalf of the Authority, I wish you all a Meri Kirihimete and a Happy New Year.
Nāku iti noa, nā
Edward Ellison ONZM