The Department of Conservation says it is taking steps to ensure a more consistent approach to its handling of applications for commercial concessions in national parks in response to an opinion released last month by the Ombudsman.
DOC says it accepts the recommendations made by the Ombudsman following his investigation into DOC’s 2013 decision to allow a daily limit of up to 40 guided walkers onto the Routeburn Track.
One of the two national park plans covering the Routeburn Track allowed some discretion to increase guided walkers while the other set a daily limit of 24 guided walkers on the track.
Deputy Director General Doris Johnston says the process used to assess the application was both detailed and public.
She says DOC viewed the difference between the two park plans as an exceptional situation but that view is not shared by the Ombudsman and DOC respects that.
Doris Johnston says DOC acknowledges the need for a more consistent approach to deal with the policies outlined in national park plans and to clarify what constitutes an exceptional situation.
Doris Johnston says DOC will be working with regional Conservation Boards, the New Zealand Conservation Authority and iwi over the next few months to develop agreed new guidelines for assessing exceptional situations.
Once finalised, the new guidelines will be publicly available.
Doris Johnston says the guidelines will be used in the processing of new applications in national parks and current guiding operations on the Routeburn Track will not be affected.
She says DOC has written to the former Otago Conservation Board member who initiated the Ombudsman’s investigation and apologised for the frustrations caused by DOC’s handling of the original application.