Mak­ing con­ser­va­tion ev­ery­body’s depart­ment

The cuts to the Depart­ment of Con­ser­va­tion’s fund­ing are a blow to the del­i­cate state of New Zealand’s flora and fauna. Thank­fully big busi­ness is putting up its hand to help.

Element - - Lifestyle - ANDY KEN­WOR­THY

As a pro­fes­sional en­vi­ron­men­tal­ist freshly em­i­grated here in 2007, the Depart­ment of Con­ser­va­tion (DoC) was one of the things I loved most about New Zealand. It ap­peared to be an en­vi­ron­men­tal watch­dog with real teeth. Com­pre­hen­sively backed by the Govern­ment, it formed a vi­tal part of the foun­da­tions for New Zealand’s clean, green per­sona.

Grow­ing up in the UK, there was the sense that busi­nesses could pol­lute, de­grade and de­stroy the nat­u­ral com­mons in any way they liked, and the most any Bri­tish au­thor­ity would do about it is po­litely ask them to pay back a tiny per­cent­age of the prof­its this cal­lous­ness or care­less­ness had earned them. In New Zealand, DoC could sim­ply say ‘Keep out’. Many big landown­ers and pol­luters hated DoC, and a part of me liked that. The an­i­mos­ity sug­gested the Depart­ment had the clout it needed. But DoC has strug­gled to se­cure and man­age its it fi­nances from day one, and the first re­struc­tur­ing took place only two years into its ex­is­tence. It was re­struc­tured again in 1996, af­ter the death of 14 peo­ple in the Cave Creek view­ing plat­form col­lapse raised se­ri­ous ques­tions abouabout how such projects were man­aged and re­sourced. Now DoC is be­ing re­struc­tured again. Un­der the plans the Depart­men looks set to lose up to a quar­ter of its staff, in­clud­ing nearly half of its area

man­agers and pro­gramme man­agers. How­ever, Con­ser­va­tion Min­is­ter Nick Smith main­tains that the lost jobs are mainly ad­min­is­tra­tive, the re­duced DoC would still have 209 more staff than it did in 2000 and that the depart­ment will still be able to do its job.

Ul­ti­mately then, per­haps the big­gest shift hap­pen­ing is a philo­soph­i­cal one. The core ques­tion is to what ex­tent we, the peo­ple, are will­ing to shoul­der the bur­den of pro­tect­ing and restor­ing New Zealand’s unique ecol­ogy, and what we agree are the best means of sus­tain­ing this ef­fort into the fu­ture. The Govern­ment be­lieves part of the an­swer for con­ser­va­tion lies in build­ing new part­ner­ships with busi­ness. This con­cept has been en­shrined in a new part­ner­ship di­vi­sion of DoC, com­plete with 300 staff, about a quar­ter of DoC’s cur­rent op­er­a­tional staffing, and a new Welling­ton-based com­mer­cial busi­ness unit.

In an in­de­pen­dent re­view of the changes, DoC direc­torgen­eral Al Mor­ri­son was quoted as say­ing: “De­spite all our best ef­forts, we are fail­ing to halt the de­cline in ecosys­tem health and species. We are not able to do the amount of work we need to do to­day, and we face a fu­ture where ev­ery year it will get worse, not bet­ter, if we don’t meet the chal­lenge.”

A lot has changed down the years. What the Depart­ment needs now, in ad­di­tion to con­tin­ued sup­port from govern­ment, is Kiwi busi­nesses of all sizes lin­ing up to ac­tively sup­port it. It’s a far cry from the age of con­ser­va­tion con­fronta­tion. The hope is that the age of true part­ner­ship has be­gun.

Photo: Dean Pur­cell

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