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Conservation challenges laid down

25 June

Conservation challenges laid down

Conservation has come a long way in the last two decades, but serious challenges lie ahead, outgoing Director-General of Conservation Hugh Logan told Forest & Bird’s 83rd AGM this weekend.

Hugh Logan has worked for the Department of Conservation for the last 15 years, the last nine as its chief executive, and has recently been appointed Secretary for the Environment. He delivered the Sanderson Memorial Address, which commemorates Forest & Bird founder Val Sanderson.

In his speech Hugh Logan outlined the achievements of New Zealand conservation in the last two decades in gains in protection of species, pest control and attitudes towards conservation.

“Probably the biggest change has been the flourishing of public interest in conservation. In 1987 it was a fringe activity. Now it is mainstream … Conservation is now part of the national psyche – New Zealanders care for the environment. They regard themselves as people of the beach, the forests and the mountains.”

However Hugh Logan said considerable challenges remained in conservation, including:

- Developing better, more cost-effective means of pest control - Keeping deer numbers (which are doubling every two years in some regions) in check, possibly through incentives for culling or commercial harvest. - Establishing protection for key ecological regions of New Zealand waters. - Continued use of 1080 – “If constraints are imposed on its use without very good scientific justification, then New Zealand’s native forests and animals will be the losers.” - Building the value that New Zealanders see in conservation as part of our economic and social future.

The full transcript of the Sanderson Memorial Address is attached.

Dr Peter Maddison, was re-elected unopposed as the National President of Forest &Bird at the AGM. Dr Maddison, of Waitakere, is the scientist who first identified painted apple moth in Auckland in 1999. “Looking back on the past year, it is heartening to reflect on the many achievements for nature conservation that Forest & Bird has been a part of. The opening of the 49,000 hectare Ahuriri Conservation Park in the South Island High Country and the announcement of the Horoirangi Marine Reserve near Nelson stand out as highlights, as do the award of Queen’s Service Medals to Forest & Bird branch chairs Joan Leckie and Stan Butcher. Dr Barry Wards was elected as Forest & Bird’s Deputy President, ahead of the only other candidate for the post, Dr Liz Slooten. Dr Wards is a Senior Advisor at Biosecurity New Zealand, a former National Treasurer of Forest & Bird, and has chaired the Upper Hutt Branch of Forest & Bird for 12 years. Stephen McPhail was re-elected as National Treasurer. Ten nominees to the National Executive were elected: Jocelyn Bieleski, Anne Fenn, Mark Fort, Dr Philip Hart, Donald Kerr, Janet Ledingham, Carole Long, Dr Gerry McSweeney, Craig Potton, and Dr Liz Slooten.

Forest & Bird General Manager Mike Britton said it was encouraging to see the AGM, attended by more than 100 delegates from Forest & Bird’s 55 branches, focus on the conservation tasks ahead of it, following a structure review of the society during the last year.

Topics discussed at the AGM covered a wide range of conservation issues, including pest control, protection of threatened species, marine protection, freshwater resources and the high country.

SANDERSON MEMORIAL ADDRESS Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society 83rd AGM, Wellington, June 24

Hugh Logan, Secretary for the Environment (and past Director-General of Conservation)

Peter Maddison, President, and members of the Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society, thank you for the honour of inviting me to give the memorial address commemorating Captain Sanderson, a man who, born of his experiences in New Zealand and the first World War, was seized of the need to look after nature in New Zealand.

I want also to take this opportunity to acknowledge someone who I regard as another Sanderson. This is Kevin Smith, who died last year. I look on Kevin as one of New Zealand’s great conservationists of the late 20th Century. Kevin was immensely intelligent, able, principled and farsighted. He achieved much for conservation.

I approach this address from the point of view of someone who has spent the last 15 years working in the Department of Conservation, the last nine years as chief executive. At the same time, my roots go back much further, to the Canterbury high country in the late 1950s and 1960s, where, like so many of us here, our values were shaped our parents and by the landscapes around us. Nevertheless, the last 15 years have given me a personal perspective on nature conservation, which I want to cover tonight: a perspective on where I think we need to go and what are some of the key challenges.

I want to emphasise that these are personal views. They do not reflect any policies or positions, either in my previous role, or in my new role as Secretary for the Environment.

I feel little need in this audience to comment on how special New Zealand is in terms of its natural environment. We have a unique ecology evolved in the absence of land mammals, a unique and diverse flora, a land of birds, invertebrates, reptiles and amphibians, and a dynamic, mobile landscape.

It is a place humans have transformed – far better for human welfare as an innovative, inclusive and caring society. But for nature, humans have wrought great change and great loss.

New Zealanders have responded to this loss over time. By the 15th/16th Century, Maori recognised these islands’ resources were not bottomless, and developed principles of guardianship (kaitiakitanga) and prohibition (rahui). In the late 19th Century Pakeha began to acknowledge that frontierism was unsustainable. The past century has seen the evolution of attitudes, laws and institutions to protect nature. Founding Forest and Bird, the Soil Conservation and Rivers Control Act and the National Parks Act stand out as examples. And since 1987 the pace has picked up. Why?

I think we can put this down, in the following order, to legislative change, institutional change, technological improvement and attitudinal change.

In 1987 a number of far-sighted people, some of them in this room tonight, advocated for the creation of integrated conservation legislation, and an integrated management agency. This was a world first. Looking at this from a domestic perspective and realising the very high expectations of 1987, I know that there have been doubts, and some stumbles, along the way. But when we stand back and take both an international perspective and the long view, we can see real progress.

Integrated conservation law and an integrated agency mean that conservation managers can be clear on what they have to do, and get on with it. Energies and resources that otherwise go into co-ordination and inter-agency struggles and competition go to better things. We don’t experience the US-type struggles of the Forest Service, Fish and Wildlife and National Parks Service. England and Scotland have followed our lead. Countries send people here constantly to see how we do it. In New Zealand’s protected areas, protection has priority. Recreation and tourism operate, for the better, under this umbrella. It means protected areas don’t try to be everything to everyone, appropriate use occurs in appropriate places, and we actively get on with things against nationally consistent standards. In many things, internationally New Zealand is a minnow, but in conservation we are a giant.

So what has this meant over the past 19 years since 1987? In 1990 possum control on conservation land covered less than 90,000 hectares. Now it covers over one million hectares (and the same again with Animal Health Board control operations). In 1987 the only offshore island eradications to succeed were about 3-4-hectare islands. Since then we have seen success with larger and larger islands, up to 10,000 hectares (Breaksea, Chetwodes, Ulva, Whenua Hou, Kapiti, Campbell, Raoul, Little Barrier) and stoats off Chalky, Anchor and now Secretary Islands, with the massively ambitious target of 30,000-hectare Resolution Island in sight. In the early 1990s, intensive integrated management was occurring only on about 2500 hectares. Now it covers more than 100,000 hectares with sites spread throughout New Zealand. In 1990, weed control work was minuscule. Now it involves about one third of DOC’s pest control funding. In species work, since 1990 kakapo numbers have increased by about one third, kokako numbers have doubled, kiwi zones have ensured that specific populations have been secured. In 1987 there were three marine reserves. In 2006 there are 28.

And probably the biggest social change has been the flourishing of public interest in conservation. In 1987 it was a fringe activity. Now it is mainstream. The quiet work of the Stan Butchers [Stan is a Forest and Bird distinguished life member] has flourished. Wealthy individuals want their own bit of native bush, community groups, councils and cities all want a part of the action. Conservation is now part of the national psyche – New Zealanders care for the environment. They regard themselves as people of the beach, the forests and the mountains. Wild nature is part of how we see ourselves as New Zealanders.

This brings us to today. Because, despite the achievements, there is much to be done. What, then, are the challenges for the future? Protecting species and places from weeds and animal pests remains the primary technical and logistical challenge. We are good at control; we have developed ways of effective control, for example of possums and stoats. But challenges are to find ways to disrupt the predator-prey cycle of mustelids and rodents. And we must find ways to deal with rats effectively, quickly and inexpensively.

In the past three years I was becoming increasingly concerned about deer numbers. While prices for wild venison were moderately good, deer numbers were kept in check. They aren’t now. Numbers in Fiordland and the northern East Coast may be doubling every two years. Recreational hunting will not keep them in check. Some may say this is rabid “anti-deer-speak.” It isn’t. Hunting magazines are themselves commenting on the rise in numbers. It is plain biology of reproductive success triumphing over harvest and mortality. Commercial harvest or culling may have to be incentivised. And deer will become a challenge for Forest and Bird. The society was founded on the “deer menace.” Arguments and debates about user managements which took place in the 1930s and 1950s have re-emerged. The “compact”reached by deerstalkers in the 1960s over free access to deer in return for their accepting limitations on numbers and State oversight of management is being debated.

The marine environment will be a conservation frontier in the 21st Century. New Zealand has, on balance, a better-managed marine area than most other parts of the world. The challenges that lie ahead are to get a much more precise handle on what human use of the marine environment is doing, and overcoming limits to knowledge about biodiversity, populations and ecological and physical processes. In addition, we do not yet have the type of area-based protection for key ecological regions in New Zealand waters that is needed.

In a similar vein, I have concerns about potential restraints on the use of some pest control methods. Last summer I spent sometime in the Matakitaki Valley in Nelson Lakes National Park. From the summit of Mount Ella, I would look out over the vast red beech forest systems of the Matakitaki, Murchison Basin and southern Kahurangi. These are superb, rich but typical forest systems. How are we to manage a level of management? Ground trapping? The human effort and cost would be immense. Fur trade? Why work here, in difficult and remote areas, when the trappers and traders can get more than enough product close to the processing centres? There is a tool - it is proven, the technology for its use is very refined, and we are immensely fortunate that it can be used with almost no impact on New Zealand’s native animals. It is 1080, and it is the most cost-effective control technique around. If constraints are imposed on its use without very good scientific justification, then New Zealand’s native forest and animals will be the losers.

Another challenge that I see is the need to maintain a strong, integrated conservation legislative framework and a strong, integrated, technically able, socially connected nationwide conservation management agency. New Zealand is too small for conservation atomisation and federalisation of its institutions, at least when it comes to something as valuable as the common heritage of all New Zealanders – protected places and species. The challenge for DOC will be to continue to ensure that it is a smart organisation that adds value.

Finally, what are the social challenges? For in the end all conservation rests on social values, ethical values and moral values. The first challenge I see is to continue to build the value that New Zealanders see in conservation. New Zealanders need to be able to connect with nature and enjoy it. New Zealanders love contact with nature (as everyone in this room enjoys with their Forest and Bird branch activities), through recreational walking, hunting, diving, fishing, boating and tramping, or vicariously through the knowledge that nature forms the backdrop to their home, town or city.

Increasingly New Zealanders see, and need to see more, that conservation is part of New Zealand’s economic and social future. Forest and Bird has an opportunity to build a new stream of conservation advocacy built around conservation economics. Clean water and catchment protection, and beautiful natural landscapes are essential parts of New Zealand’s biophysical economy.

In the 21st Century, healthy lifestyles and connecting with nature will be essential for our society to combat obesity and depression, and to build social cohesion and national identity. And finally, the conservation challenge for the future will be to have a strong national conservation conscience. For the past 83 years Forest and Bird has been a key part of the nation’s nature conservation resource. New Zealanders want you and need you.

ENDS

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