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Federated Mountain Clubs AGM - Sandra Lee Speech

Hon Sandra Lee Speech Notes
Keynote Address To The Federated Mountain Clubs Annual General Meeting 9 June 2001

Conference Centre, Teachers' College, Mt Eden, Auckland

Thank you for the invitation to speak today.
Last week, I spent an enjoyable evening with mountaineers, trampers, forest-conservationists and others as we celebrated the announcement that the 130,000 hectares of Timberlands West Coast native forests are to be re-allocated to the Department of Conservation.
I wish to publicly thank Federated Mountain Clubs for your support for the government decision.
I think FMC plays an important role as a respected advocate for the safe use of the backcountry, and in promoting its preservation and sound management.
You can be assured that when FMC says something, this government listens carefully.

As you are aware, through the Department of Conservation, I am responsible for the management of 14 National Parks, three world heritage areas, dozens of forests, maritime and farm parks.
I am also responsible for several thousand reserves including scenic and historic reserves, and a disproportionately small number of marine reserves.
A market survey found recently that more than one-third of adults have stayed in a Department of Conservation hut and/or camped in a Department managed area at some stage.
About one in ten has done so in the last 12 months.
In a similar vein, it was found that more than two-thirds of adults have visited a Department visitor centre and/or been on a short walk in a Department managed area, and one third has done so in the last 12 months.
Furthermore, the numbers using campsites, short walks, and tramping tracks are likely to grow significantly. Demands on visitor information services are also likely to increase.

There are some key issues that I plan to address related to DOC's continued provision of campsites, short walks and tramping tracks.
Many Department facilities are run down, and need to be either replaced or removed altogether. In some instances, existing facilities are not in the most ideal location to meet the needs of today¡¦s visitors.
I do not apologise for having to comply with the Health Act and Building Act in terms of the legal standard of DOC facilities.
These are mandatory standards for huts, structures, and campsites.
They are non-negotiable ¡V but we can still discuss what people believe is a reasonable standard of service.

I want to thank FMC for the part you have played in helping DOC develop its service standards for both huts and tracks.
I am aware that there are people who believe the backcountry should be free of facilities, in order to retain the backcountry in as close to its natural state as possible.
There are others who have overly high expectations and demand all the mod cons.
Getting the right mix is no easy task.
I am, however, personally committed to ensuring that my Department can provide a range of recreation facilities that will meet users needs and be sustainable in the long-term.

Despite the significant cost of providing visitor facilities, the government has shown its commitment to ensuring continued public access by increasing the Department of Conservation¡¦s annual budget.
Improving the capacity of DOC is also one of many steps being taken that will help this government deliver positive conservation and recreational outcomes.
Last month I announced that the government is to spend an additional $16 million over the next three years to manage and upgrade some visitor facilities on conservation land.
Almost half of this money will be spent on building huts and toilets and that means expenditure of some $2.5 million in each of the following three financial years.
For the 2001/2002 financial year, total funds for visitor management will $35 million (GST incl).
Because of this additional support, more than 600-backcountry huts will be brought up to standard and at least 30 huts will be replaced over the period covered by the additional funding.
DOC has also identified about 50 critical sites, mostly of very high public use, where work on replacing or upgrading public toilet facilities needs to be carried out within the next year.

The new funding will ensure that the network of backcountry huts and associated visitor facilities are structurally sound, and that the public toilets are functional and meet acceptable environmental standards. While DOC is likely to experience demands for front country tourism services, I am determined that this will not be at the expense of the recreational needs of New Zealanders.
I believe that the backcountry will be the sanctuary increasingly sought by New Zealanders and all user groups deserve to be able to access facilities, that, while likely to be modest, will nonetheless meet basic shelter needs as society determines them.

I am disappointed to be advised that some remote huts and shelters have fallen into such disrepair that the only option now is for them to be removed.
However I am also pleased that the 2001 Budget allocation of new funding means that the deferred maintenance needs of some visitor facilities on public conservation land can now be addressed.
While this occurs, an ongoing strategy for the sustainable management of visitor facilities will be developed.
There are, of course, issues around the extensive networks of roads and tracks managed by my Department.

It is timely for me to thank you, the members of the Federated Mountain Clubs, for the work that you do voluntarily in maintaining huts through out the country.
Without this effort many huts would have long ago fallen into a state of disrepair so I thank you for the tremendous effort that you continually provide in this area.
I note that about 70 of the 1020 huts, in the backcountry, are managed solely by clubs or jointly by clubs with the Department.
I am pleased that you are able to access a discounted rate for the annual hut passes in recognition of the work that you do.

As you may be aware, the Department is preparing a document identifying options for managing recreational services and facilities on conservation lands.
Despite a significant increase in funding for the maintenance and development of visitor services it is abundantly clear that tough decisions still need to be made.
It is my intention to consult at a national level with regard to the options available to me in terms of the sustainable management of recreation facilities.
This consultation will include discussions with national representatives of non-governmental recreation and conservation organisations, the New Zealand Conservation Authority, the Tourism Board, and the Tourism Industry Association. Feedback from this public consultation process will shape the future direction of the long-term provision of recreational facilities on public conservation lands. The discussion document will be available for release to the public in the near future.

It is also my intention to report back to Cabinet on the outcome of the public consultation process by November this year.

Other matters that I have currently been progressing concern the high country. I welcome the opportunity to create a magnificent high country conservation park in the Canterbury foothills of the Southern Alps.
This proposal, which is now out for public consultation, will protect about 22,000 hectares of high country on Canterbury¡¦s Torlesse Range. This has come about, in large part, through land acquisition by the Nature Heritage Fund.
I am encouraged that through tenure review and strategic land purchases, it is likely that we will see the confirmation of more conservation land and possibly new tussock grassland conservation parks.
I hasten to note that inheritance of large areas of this high country will also result in an inheritance of more huts, roads, tracks, and of recreational opportunities.

I also want to thank FMC for its role in the tenure review process.
The FMC's survey reports, prepared for each pastoral lease going through the tenure review process, are invaluable.
I would like to be able to announce more initiatives similar to the Torlesse Range, and your input will help this.

The vast majority of the high country is pastoral leased land that covers about 2.5 million hectares.

This extensive tract of country is very important for indigenous biological diversity and contains many rare and threatened species and plant communities. There are also regionally significant opportunities for a wide range of outdoor recreational pursuits.

I am personally committed to ensuring that access issues are resolved. As New Zealanders, we should have access to public conservation lands for our enjoyment. These lands are part of our heritage and, in an increasingly globalised environment, it is only our culture and our heritage that will set us apart from the rest of the world.

Globalisation issues impact on us as a nation and it is important that this government considers these matters in a holistic way.
To this end, the recently released New Zealand Tourism Strategy is a change in direction from the situation under the previous Government.
For too long it seems that tourism interests have outweighed conservation interests.
The new Tourism strategy recognises the importance of our environment and the fact that the tourism industry is dependent on our clean green image.
DOC¡¦s role in monitoring impacts on the protected environment and in the maintenance and development of recreational services and facilities on conservation lands is reinforced in this strategy.
It is important to address these impacts, given that the number of tourists is likely to increase.

Another important feature of the tourism strategy is the emphasis on improving visitor yield - that is, the amount of money made from visitors. This is a shift in direction from the traditional approach that sought more and more visitors from overseas while ignoring the environmental impacts caused by uncontrolled growth.

The impact that tourists can make on the conservation estate can be significant.
I do not support suggestions that we charge tourists a tax on arrival, or charge them a different rate from the general public for the use of the same services or facilities.
That approach is likely to contravene the Human Rights Act as well as the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act.
I am, however, considering ways in which we can minimise the detrimental impacts of tourists.
The options may include a pro-active approach to steer tourists towards managed activities such as serviced walks on private land, farmstays and horse treks.

You may be interested to know what my Department has identified as its priorities for outdoor recreation over the next three years.
These priorities include:
„h Ensuring that there is an effective decision making process that involves a wide range of community interest groups;

„h Ensuring that there is a wide range of recreation opportunities that meet current and longer term needs of visitors to conservation areas;

„h Promoting outdoor recreation, for inspiration and enjoyment, and to raise awareness that areas managed by the Department of Conservation are owned by, and for, all New Zealanders;

„h Maximising the benefits for visitors across a range of recreation opportunities by aligning recreation facilities and information services;

„h Ensuring that recreation facilities meet appropriate service and legal standards and that a balance is achieved between their long-term maintenance requirements and available resources;

„h Ensuring visitors have easy access to information which helps them to choose, enjoy and understand the places they visit; and

„h Establishing new wilderness areas including the Adams and Northern Paparoa wilderness areas promoted by FMC.

Clearly, the challenges are many and we will all have a role to play in this area.
As I said at the commencement of my speech, I see FMC as working in partnership with DOC and the government where there are issues of common interest.
While we may not always be in agreement, I have a fundamental respect for the support that you have given over many years for issues related to the protection of public access.

I therefore wish you well for your Annual General Meeting.


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