The theme for the 2016 conference was Wild Places. Our mountains, rivers, lakes, forest and sea define us as
Kiwis but they have suffered under human occupation. Despite some conservation successes bio-diversity is in decline.
Tourism attracted by our natural image is now our biggest income earner. There were more than 3.3M tourists this year and 4.5M are projected by 2020. How can this be managed to avoid threats to our natural assets?
Public lands are under pressure. DOC has had its budget reduced, has fewer rangers in the field and also its advocacy role has been restricted. This now largely falls upon EDS, Forest & Bird and Fish & Game to fulfill but with limited financial support. Strategic leadership is needed at all levels. The environment is still largely separated from the economy and needs to be de-marginalised and be more central in decision and policy making. We need to work in systems not silos.
The ecosystem provides services from our natural capital and contributes to our sense of well-being. Wellbeing is not just material goods but comes from social cohesion, resilience, health and sustainability for future generations. Our economic model values economic costs but does not adequately value bio-physical systems such as water and air.
Dr Girol Karacaoglu, Chief Economist and Deputy Secretary of The Treasury, recognised the value of nature to the national economy. Case study: The small Mackenzie District Council is trying to manage the unique landscape of the McKenzie Basin but remains opposed by a few diehard dairying interests. The efforts by a group of stakeholders who formed the Mackenzie Country Trust has had rather more success.
Tourism places strain on the infrastructure of provincial N.Z. with small rating bases notably; the West Coast of the South Island and also the Far North. It also brings employment to small rural communities - the cycle trails are an example. The Great Walks have been a stand out success story but they are reaching their capacity. A small tax on non-resident visitors at their entry to N.Z. was supported by most of the political parties which spoke at the conference.
We need to bring nature back into the cities. Haste to build houses in Auckland could undermine that. VKK restoring Wairoa Stream is bringing nature close to our CBD.
NZ’s “moon landing”, Predator Free N.Z. by 2050, attracted attention and is a challenge but will need resourcing and wide acceptance by private land holders. This would be better done by discussion rather than regulation.
The Minister of Environment Hon Nick Smith launched a collaborative initiative to bring various land owners and environmentalists together to identify how best to protect native biodiversity on private land. This Biodiversity Forum will adopt a very similar approach to the Land & Water Forum, launched at the EDS Conference about 6 years ago, which focused on freshwater usage and quality and brought about 50 stakeholders together and achieved wide agreement but not all recommendations have been accepted by government. There was discussion about the very successful QE2 Trust which has protected about 4,000 covenants totaling 180,000 ha on private land but despite assistance in fencing and legal costs by the Trust there is a considerable cost to the land owner, usually a farmer.
Not all the tools necessary to get N.Z. free of pests by 2050 exist. Dr Andrea Byrom briefed on biological and genetic controls for helping keep N.Z. predator free. These are being researched by the National Science Challenge with a $28M grant. DOC, which until recently only treated 2% of its land area for pests, managed 12% in 2015 and targets 17% this year: a great improvement. There is a target to have all islands predator free by 2025 including Great Barrier and Stewart Islands.
The Minister for the Environment also talked about determination to conclude the Kermadec Marine Sanctuary this year, which was welcome. He did face disagreement from most, including the other political parties, about Marine Protected Areas legislation being limited to the Territorial Sea - 12 nautical miles.