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NBR columnist has got his facts wrong on DOC

1 September 2005

NBR columnist has got his facts wrong on DOC

National Business Review columnist Owen McShane appears to be letting his ideology get in the way of the facts in attacking the conservation of New Zealand's landscapes and species, Conservation Minister Chris Carter said today.

"Mr McShane's report on the Department of Conservation, published today, appears to be riddled with inaccuracies," Mr Carter said.

"For starters, McShane alleges the Department of Conservation (DOC) manages 50 per cent of New Zealand's land area. It doesn't, it manages about 30 per cent.

"McShane's report claims that conservation lands are home to half of New Zealand’s natural capital in the form of agriculture, forestry, tourism, recreation, minerals and petroleum. This claim defies common sense," Mr Carter said.

"About eight million hectares of New Zealand’s 26 million hectare land area is public conservation land, most of which is in native forests (nearly six million hectares). In contrast, New Zealand has nearly double this land area (12 million hectares) in farmland and the world’s largest exotic forestry plantations (1.8 million hectares). There are no significant petroleum resources on conservation land.

"What Mr McShane fails to recognise is that even where there are significant mineral resources on conservation lands, such as coal, use is approved where appropriate. Some 96% of mineral permit applications get the green light by DOC. I recently approved the Pike River Coal Mine on conservation land on the West Coast," Mr Carter said.

"I’m not sure that Mr McShane has even read the Conservation Act fully. He claims that inadequate legislation means DOC is prohibited from considering any non-conservation issues and gives as examples, recreation and tourism.

"This is quite wrong. Section 6 (e) of the Conservation Act 1987 specifically requires DOC to foster the use of natural and historic resources for recreation and to allow their use for tourism, provided that use does not destroy native species.

"In terms of tourism, conservation lands are hugely important and DOC maintains a good relationship with the tourism industry," Mr Carter said.

"About 93 per cent of tourism concession applications are approved by DOC, and many of these operators help DOC in its work."

Recent studies undertaken by an independent macro-economist for DOC show conservation lands on the South Island West Coast and around Nelson and Marlborough are a major contributor to the local economies there.

On the West Coast public conservation lands provide 15% of full time employment in the region (1814 full time jobs), mostly from tourism, and generate $221 million or over 10% of economic activity on the coast. While tourism is the major contributor, other commercial activity on conservation land includes mining, farming and sphagnum moss harvesting.

Another study shows that Abel Tasman National Park and the Queen Charlotte Track in the Marlborough Sounds are pumping $54.4 million a year into the Nelson-Tasman and Marlborough economies. Abel Tasman National Park, which gets over 160,000 visitors a year, contributes $45 million and has led to the creation of 370 full-time jobs.

“What these studies show is that conservation makes a real contribution to economic growth, based on the protection and preservation of our natural and historic resources,” said Mr Carter.

“Contrary to allegations of “locking up” conservation lands made by McShane, the studies show that protecting native species and providing recreation opportunities for the people of New Zealand does not prevent many different types of economic activity arising from these lands.”

Mr Carter said New Zealand was currently seeing significant growth in economic activity on or around conservation lands.

“Last year there were 889 tourism-related concessions in place for businesses to operate on conservation land around the country, 205 more than in 1998. That’s a four percent a year increase in the last seven years.

“In total DOC has around 4000 individual business agreements with the private sector for activities on conservation lands. These range from guided walks to telecommunication installations.”

"Use of conservation land is skyrocketing. In 2004 there were 33.5 million visits to public conservation land, of which about 62 percent were by New Zealanders and 38 percent by overseas visitors.

"McShane is wrong when he says DOC is not required to distinguish the conservation value of a national park and farmland that it manages," Mr Carter said.

“The Department manages land under a number of laws such as the Reserves Act, National Parks Act, Wildlife Act, as well as the Conservation Act. These see the protective status of a national park differing markedly from a recreation or road reserve, and the activities that are permitted in these places vary accordingly.”

Mr Carter said decisions about how conservation lands are managed are not “made behind closed doors”, as McShane claims.

“They are made following transparent statutory processes, with involvement by stakeholders and the public, and with oversight by Conservation Boards and the New Zealand Conservation Authority, which represent iwi, recreation, farming and business interests. Moreover, decisions made by DOC or myself are reviewable in the High Court.”

ENDS

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