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The NZ Biodiversity Strategy Discussion Document Explained

The NZ Biodiversity Strategy Discussion Document Explained

‘Te Koiroa o te Koiora’, a Discussion Document for the New Zealand Biodiversity Strategy (NZBS) was launched today setting out proposals for inclusion in a new Biodiversity Strategy. The creation of the discussion document was led by DOC in an all of Government collaboration with agencies (including the Ministry for the Environment), and working closely with iwi, specialists and interest groups. The document was informed by a wide range of discussions held with communities and stakeholders between November 2018 and March 2019.

What is Biodiversity?

Short for ‘biological diversity’, the scientific definition is “the diversity of species, genetic heritage, and ecosystems,” or more simply, the variety of life on earth or in Aotearoa. The NZBS discussion document describes biodiversity in a slightly wider sense as “the variety of all biological life – plants, animals, fungi and microorganisms – the genes they contain and the ecosystems on land or in water where they live.”

Key Issues Identified by the NZBS Discussion Document

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Lack of Coordination

A lack of co-ordination with a raft of outdated legislation and regulation are two key issues the Department of Conservation-led Discussion document pinpoints as in need of fixing up.

“At present there is a lack of cohesive prioritisation or direction in the biodiversity system. It’s hard for everyone involved in the system to see how they fit together, where there are overlaps or gaps, and how to share knowledge or resources. No one has a role to facilitate coordination, partnerships and communication between those involved,” the document says.

It suggests an interim governance structure should be set up immediately to oversee the new biodiversity strategy’s implementation planning and delivery.

There is little information about how the new governance structure should be formed or run, but a recent independent report suggested this should be led by DOC. The Biodiversity Collaborative Group last year reported on a National Policy Statement for Indigenous Biodiversity. The BCG contained stakeholders ranging from environmental organisations, Iwi, farmers, industry and others. Among its recommendation were that biodiversity coordination should be brought under the control of DOC.

Legal Issues

The consultation document also points to problems in law. “There are often numerous pieces of legislation governing a particular environment, and sometimes these legislative regimes are overlapping, contradictory, contested, ineffective (allowing activities that cause biodiversity loss) or slow. Some of the legislative regimes are outdated and not able to adapt well to the current and future pressures they need to respond to.”

The NZBS does not propose to deal with this issue swiftly, however, as it will follow one to two years of work reviewing governance, leadership and statutory roles and responsibilities to ensure these are fit for purpose.

Based on this review, the NZBS suggests undertaking a targeted review of natural resource legislation in the medium term or three to four years down the track. The document does not say it, but this will be a massive logistical exercise, probably worthy of Law Commission consideration. Many parts of environmental and conservation law are wieldy and outdated. Environment Minister David Parker has already started work on a “blue skies” review of the Resource Management Act, which could well have a major impact on biodiversity issues. Closer to home, the cornerstone Conservation Act is also outdated with the department saying for years it is need of an overhaul.

Near Term Goals

In the nearer term the DOC-led strategy aims to assess the approach to funding for community conservation, including:

• Aligning funding with conservation need and regional/national priorities.

• Increasing the focus on monitoring and delivery of outcomes.

• Streamlining processes to reduce transaction costs, including reporting.

A More Integrated Approach

Much of the Discussion document underlines the need to protect wider areas of the environment in an integrated landscape-scale approach, which ties in with the Predator Free 2050 work on this scale. It also suggests integrating biodiversity management into farm management, for example through inclusion in integrated farm plans.

Environmental farm plans are a work being progressed under climate change policy, being seen as one way of measuring farm operations emissions. They are currently used by some farmers and councils through the Overseer programme to measure farms impact on water quality, extending farm plans to biodiversity management would add some cost and complexity, so might be resisted by some farmers.

In the longer term the NZBS document states that work is needed to ensure local councils adopt regional biodiversity strategies that include a focus on integrated catchment (including receiving environments) and landscape scale biodiversity planning and management.

This would fall in line with the Government’s current water quality policy work which is increasingly focussing on the need to manage catchments as a whole.

The discussion document also suggests that this work needs to be more immediate in certain areas. There is a recommendation that in the short term there be a review of the prioritisation system as carried out by DOC and Regional councils, with a roll out of a coordinated national prioritisation system for ecosystem-based management, as well as site- and species-based management.

Measuring Success of the NZBS?

Amongst the measures of success identified by the NZBS for by 2025 are:

• No further decline in the number and extent of coastal and freshwater wetlands.

• All areas of significant biodiversity on land mapped and protected.

• Marine ecosystems mapped and evidence-based priorities for protection and management established.

• All predators and non-indigenous browsers eradicated from all offshore island nature reserves and other priority biodiversity hotspots.

• No net loss of extent of rare and naturally uncommon terrestrial indigenous habitat (active sand dunes, braided riverbeds, estuaries, cloud forests etc.)

• Ten key freshwater pest species and ten key land-based weed species are reduced or controlled to a level that does not diminish ecological integrity.

• Marine Protected Areas established in priority areas, and priority risks being actively managed. Indicators are demonstrating positive changes.

• Large-scale planning and action being undertaken for large geographical areas in high-priority places (e.g. over 500,000 hectares).

• Achieving biodiversity outcomes is a part of standard farming practice.

By Ian Llewellyn
Ian is Co-editor of Scoop and publisher of Energy and Environment Business Alert - New Zealand's premier weekly newsletter for the environmental and energy sectors covering politics, parliament, policy and industry news.

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