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Carter: Conservation lands the tourism foundation

Chris Carter Speech: Conservation lands: the foundations of NZ tourism

Conservation lands: the foundations of NZ tourism

Kia ora tâtou.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

A few months ago the Prime Minister and I were in Karamea opening a new mountain biking trail in the Kahurangi National Park.

Nothing spectacular about that, you might think.

But this mountain biking trail was not a Department of Conservation initiative, instead it was a community one.

It was part of a co-ordinated effort by Karamea to upgrade the recreational infrastructure in the nearby Oparara Basin.

The Karamea community has seen the enormous benefits that tourism is bringing for communities the length and breadth of the West Coast.

They have seen visitors flood into Punakaiki in the past few years. They have seen the construction of a luxury hotel there, and they want to see similar benefits develop in their community.

So where do they turn when looking to enhance the appeal of their area?

To the conservation estate, and their comparatively new national park.

Oparara Basin contains remarkable limestone arches and beautiful forest but the track system in the area does not allow visitors to fully utilise it.

The community is seeking to raise about $1.5m to extend key tracks in the basin and maximise its economic potential. The mountain biking trail the PM and I opened was the first step in these plans.

The community's initiative will improve recreational opportunities for everyone, add some juice to the local economy and in doing so cement the value of the Oparara Basin as a protected area in the minds of local people.

I relate this to you because it is a classic example of the symbiotic relationship that exists between conservation and tourism.

Your industry is a key mechanism by which New Zealand's conservation lands become a significant, and I believe as yet under appreciated, economic asset.

DoC anticipates that there will be 28 million individual visits to the conservation estate this year.

More than half the international visitors to New Zealand will spend time on our protected land.

Increasingly, the economy of whole regions hinges on a tourist industry that harnesses the appeal and recreational opportunities of conservation lands.

Yet we are still having debates about whether to flood a portion of an ecological area on the West Coast to build a hydro-scheme on the Arnold River.

We still squabble about DoC's unswerving advocacy for our fragile habitats even when 28 of the most spectacular locations being shown around the world in Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings movies were on protected land.

DoC has worked hard at instilling in New Zealanders a strong sense of the social and environmental value of conservation land but we have not done enough to emphasise the economic value of it.

I am seeking to rectify that and in doing so capitalise on a grassroots awareness that is blossoming all over the country.

There are now many communities like Karamea.

Communities where a culture of extraction has given way to the sustainable economic opportunities that conservation offers through tourism and recreation.

Consider these examples.

In the late 1980s ten families on Banks Peninsula began examining ways in which they could diversify use of their land after several years of drought, falling livestock prices and economic hardship. Their solution: New Zealand's first private tramping track traversing farmland and the Hinewai Reserve, a local conservation initiative.

Since then the committee that ran the track has grown into a company, and 2600 people now walk the track each year.

A lot of the forest surrounding it has been covenanted and a proportion of the profits from the track go towards the replanting of native species.

Further down the coast at Oamaru a quarry has been converted into a little blue penguin colony.

DoC, the Waitaki District Council and community groups have worked together to create a viable tourist attraction out of the appeal of one of the most adorable birds in the world.

Thanks to the community's efforts, penguin numbers in the colony have multiplied from just 14 breeding pairs to over 100. The business the penguins create has grown to the point where a 300-person viewing stand is under construction.

Conservation provides a foundation on which to build tourism, and tourism, if it is done sensitively, can deliver conservation benefits.

Earlier this year, I had the privilege of opening a newly upgraded walking track in Mount Egmont National Park.

The Pouakai Circuit track traverses 25 km of the most spectacular parts of the park, and fills a gap in Taranaki's visitor market for a two to three day quality tramp.

Its upgrade was a Venture Taranaki initiative with financial support from the TSB Community Trust. WINZ provided the workforce, DoC the expertise and the funding for the structures, and a local helicopter company provided the logistical support giving its pilots mountain flying experience.

A key part of the government's vision for New Zealand is to seek clean, sustainable growth and innovation through these kinds of partnerships.

As Local Government Minister I am responsible for fostering partnership between the nation's local councils and central government. I know local government works closely with you through the Postcards from Home initiative.

I would like to see similar partnerships evolve between conservation and tourism regionally and nationally.

With this in mind, your minister, Mark Burton, and I have recently begun discussing new ways that conservation and tourism can co-operate on a national level.

We are holding these discussions with the clear understanding that for DoC there are two responsibilities that by law we are unable to compromise on.

I'm referring to DoC's statutory responsibility to protect and nurture the integrity of the environments found in the public conservation estate, and our statutory responsibility to maintain opportunities for recreation.

The discussions Mark and I are having build on the co-operation that took place between our departments during the development of the NZ Tourism Strategy.

Talks are at an early stage but they broadly encompass four key areas:

· The thorny issue of how to alleviate visitor pressure at key hotspots on the conservation estate by spreading the load of visitors to other existing or new conservation areas;

· The opportunities for use of presently unpublicised destinations on the conservation estate where there exists under-utilised infrastructure;

· The tuning of DoC's concessions process to the NZ Tourism Strategy, and the needs of the interactive traveller;

· And the possible inclusion of conservation standards in the industry's new quality assurance scheme.

I stress again that these are just areas for exploration and not definitive plans.

They are born of the fact that tourism creates issues for conservation and recreation, and there is no point in pretending that it doesn't.

But similarly, there is no point in burying our heads in the sand and pretending we can do without tourism. We can't, it is an important part of our economy.

We have to marry up all three - conservation, recreation and tourism - and I believe in taking a proactive approach to doing so.

I believe that we should aspire to spreading visitors out across conservation lands. That way we spread out their impact and their benefit.

I want to work with you to achieve this.

There are many areas in which we are already working together.

Just last week I appointed several tourism operators to conservation boards.

There are some outstanding conservators and DoC staff around New Zealand who are deeply involved with your industry, trying to unpick extremely complex issues at iconic conservation sites.

I have had the pleasure of working with Whale Watch Kaikoura's Wally Stone in the Government's efforts to conserve the world's whale species. He has now attended three International Whaling Commission meetings and been an enormous asset at all of them.

I am aware that your industry runs a Green Globe scheme acknowledging particular areas and operators who have done excellent work to preserve the environment and biodiversity.

We need more of this. The better we work together the better we can head off problems that threaten the integrity of the conservation estate, and by extension your industry's use of it.

I know one of the key issues you have with the Department of Conservation is its management of concessions.

That is hardly surprisingly because DoC, as landlord for a lot of New Zealand's outdoor activities, has an extraordinarily difficult job balancing all the competing interests in conservation land.

There are currently 3598 concessions held by individuals and companies permitting them to operate on conservation land, 1130 of these are held by the tourism industry.

Concessions granted to the tourism industry have increased about 25 per cent in the past two years.

DoC estimates that annual earnings by the industry derived directly from those concessions are now at least $120m. In some regions those earnings have risen by 106 per cent since 2000.

Competition for concessions is often white hot and everyone thinks they are an expert on the impact of their activities.

In my view, DoC does a fine job coping with this but that is not to say it can't do better.

We have acknowledged as much and DoC has been working on a major review of the way it manages concessions.

A key focus of the review is to improve the cost and timeframes involved in decision-making on applications for concessions.

We want to find ways to reduce the bureaucracy you have to meet because that bureaucracy costs you and DoC.

However, it is vital that we do this without undermining the integrity of the concessions approval process or jeopardising the conservation estate and the opportunities it provides for recreation.

To this end, DoC has been working with an advisory group made up of TIANZ, the Ministry of Tourism, a tourism operator, Federated Mountain Clubs and Forest & Bird.

The project is about half way through.

What is emerging is an initiative to effectively improve the planning and administration of concessions.

National parks and conservation areas are governed by management plans and strategies that are formulated in consultation with the public, the tourism industry, conservationists and recreationalists.

These plans and strategies broadly outline what can and cannot occur within a conservation area, the area's specific vulnerabilities, its purpose and so on.

The intention is to make these plans and strategies more specific about what types of concession-related activities are likely to be okay in a particular area.

In future they are likely to provide more detail of what factors will be taken into account in DoC's approval of concessions in a particular area.

That means when a tourism company applies for a concession its chances of success will be more transparent, and it will also be easier for DoC to determine if a concession can be approved.

At present I am advised that it takes roughly six to nine months to process a non-notified concession, and nine to 12 months to process a notified one.

DoC anticipates that the better planning I have described will significantly reduce those processing times particularly for low-impact non-notified concessions.

One of the beneficial consequences will be to free up resources to allow increased monitoring of concessions.

A closer eye will be kept on the environmental effects of concessions and rogue companies or individuals functioning without them.

The value of your concessions increases if DoC has the resources to enforce the requirement to have them.

It is something the department struggles to do adequately at present because too much staff time is absorbed in the desk work generated by applications for concessions.

You may have noticed that a few weeks ago I released a draft general policy for the conservation estate and at the same time the New Zealand Conservation Authority released a draft general policy for national parks.

It is easy to dismiss these as large pieces of bureaucratic gobbledy-gook but they are more important than they appear, particularly in relation to concessions and the way we would like to see them administered in future.

The general policies are designed to bring consistency to decision-making on conservation land.

They will set a national framework that the people in DoC and on conservation boards writing the management plan for a national park will have to adhere to.

The policies describe the conditions under which commercial tourism on the conservation estate can occur.

They direct planners and boards to be much more specific about what is okay in a particular area and what is not.

Have a look at them. Let us know your views. The policies are undergoing an extensive period of consultation. I have an open mind about the outcome.

Before I stop talking, I'd like to make this point.

I see the relationship between conservation and tourism as one of give and take.

If you are making a profit off conservation land, I don't think it is unreasonable to expect some conservation benefit from that opportunity.

Some of you are well aware of this and help DoC with its work in fantastic ways.

I know:

· that rafting operators working on the West Coast pay a contribution to whio monitoring; · that Milford Sound Lodge undertakes stoat control and monitoring work with DoC's Te Anau staff; · that Real Journeys boat captains in Doubtful Sound monitor marine mammals and provide logistical support for DoC staff.

There are many more examples. All I can say is good on those who are doing this kind of work.

I am encouraging DoC to look for more reciprocal relationships with concessionaires, and I encourage you to consider them.

Consider them because that is the spirit of partnership and the future of your industry depends on the health and wellbeing of New Zealand's native plants, animals and landscapes.

You don't just have to help with money

The fate our threatened species - birds like the kiwi, the whio and the orange fronted parakeet - depend to no small degree on the amount of advocacy for them.

At present that advocacy is largely the domain of conservation interests, it should also be your domain.

Speak out for conservation.

I look forward to hearing your voices on the television, the airwaves and in the newspapers.

Thank you.

© Scoop Media

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