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Whack, Don't Scrap Doc.

Sunday 23 July 2000


The sentiments behind United leader Peter Dunn's call for the abolition of the Department of Conservation are understandable, but his solution is unnecessary. The law does not need to change, but DoC's performance does.

This is the reaction of national outdoor recreation advocate Public Access New Zealand (PANZ) to Mr. Dunn's call for DoC to be scrapped and replaced by a Department of Outdoor Recreation.

PANZ agrees with Mr. Dunn that the present management of the great outdoors in New Zealand is unbalanced, but there is already a department mandated to be an advocate for both the natural environment and recreational values - DoC.

As well as its conservation role, DoC already has a statutory duty to "foster" recreation", as distinct from only "allowing" tourism*, PANZ spokesman and researcher Bruce Mason said . However, because of past governments' stingy funding, DoC has moved towards fostering tourism as a means of generating revenue. Most recreational users believe this has been at the expense of outdoor recreation and the environment.

Its perverse that DoC now only seems to equate recreation with the building of facilities, particularly elaborate ones that best serve the interests of the tourism industry. This generates concessionaire revenue for the department.

"Whatever happened to ensuring that the public has freedom of enjoyment of parks so that they can receive 'in full measure' the inspiration, recreation, and enjoyment of our wonderful natural areas** ?", Mr. Mason asks.

Outdoor recreation's primary values are self discovery, skills enhancement, and the fostering of a healthy relationship with the environment. Equity requires ready opportunities for everyone no matter their economic circumstances. The majority of recreationists only require, and can only afford, basic facilities, if any.

PANZ believes that DoC, as manager of public lands, should be focusing on planning to ensure the maintenance of a diverse range of recreational opportunities, while ensuring protection of the environment. These days it seems that the only planning DoC does is for expensive facilities and 'Great Walks', inviting tourism development, and for removing low-cost tracks and huts in back country areas. Mr. Mason, a former national park ranger, believes this is a sad outcome for a public-service department and its many dedicated staff.

It is little wonder that the resultant sense of alienation gives rise to the kinds of demands expressed by Mr. Dunn.

The necessary balance between conservation and recreation has already been struck in the legislation covering national parks, reserves, and conservation areas. Consequently PANZ doesn't believe that there is an inherent conflict between the two objectives requiring DoC to be split up. What DoC needs is firm direction from Government.

One part of that direction could be a change of name to the Department of Conservation and Recreation, to provide a daily reminder to staff that they have dual responsibilities.

Conservation Boards have become 'toothless tigers' as public watchdogs over DoC, with behind-the-scenes deals with iwi and the tourism industry struck well before the boards are invited to comment, with these same interests represented on the boards as well. This is a reflection of the lack of balance Mr. Dunn has referred to.

Footnotes: * Section 6 Conservation Act 1987 ** Section 4 National Parks Act 1980


Bruce Mason Researcher & Co-Spokesman Public Access New Zealand R D 1 Omakau 9182 Central Otago New Zealand

Phone & fax: 64-3-447-3554 Cell Phone: 025 358 311 Email: panz@es.co.nz Web: www.publicaccessnewzealand.org

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