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Sage: Pre-budget boost for DOC work

14 May 2018  By Bridget O'Connell

One of New Zealand’s leading tourism assets received a pre-budget boost in the form of $81.3m of pest control funding.

Eugenie Sage

Conservation minister Eugenie Sage announced that the Department of Conservation will receive the additional operating funds for predator control in NZ’s conservation forests over four years.

The move will enable DOC to undertake sustained predator control over more than 1.8 million hectares – the largest area ever covered, and about the size of Northland and Auckland combined.

Sage said that the additional funding enables the greatest threats to biodiversity – rats, stoats and possums – to be continually controlled over a larger area in an integrated way.

“For the first time, predator control funding will be locked in. Budget 2018 means DOC won’t have to divert funding from other priorities or scramble to get one-off allocations from Government in order to do this essential work.”

The extra predator control funding helps New Zealand move closer to the goal of complete eradication by 2050 – a pledge that has been supported by leading tourism industry participants including the Holiday Parks Association and Air New Zealand.

The boost was welcomed by Forest & Bird chief conservation adviser, Kevin Hackwell, who said that normal annual predator management by DOC has covered only around 200,000 hectares, so this funding “effectively increases DOC’s pest management area by nearly ten times.”

He called it “absolutely critical for the survival of our native species”, pointing out that at the end of four years, about one-third of DOC’s forests will have regular pest management.

However, he added: “That’s a good start, but there will still be plenty of forgotten places where our amazing native species will be killed by unmanaged predators.”

University of Auckland ecologist Dr James Russell agreed that the funding increase is a good start, but said that politicians are not protecting the true value of NZ’s environment.

He told Newstalk ZB that amount of funding is small compared to the value the environment contributes to the $36bn tourism industry – our biggest export.

“People are coming to New Zealand and travelling within New Zealand to see our natural heritage. So I think whether $80m here, or $100m there, we are still under funding critically our conversation relative to the value it brings to this country.”

He added if we are to reach the Predator Free 2050 goal, the government must contribute more.

“The costing’s that have been provided for Predator Free New Zealand only costed out half a per cent of GDP, but that is still less than the investment we are seeing from the government.”

The opposition called the announcement from the government coalition a “broken promise”.

National’s Conservation spokesperson Sarah Dowie, said: “The $81.3m increase over four years is a 4.6% increase and barely more than inflation – and it’s less than what National put up.

“National’s 2017 Budget committed more than $107m to DOC – the largest funding injection in its history.

“While the Greens claimed in opposition that DOC’s budget needed to at least double to meet what it called the biodiversity crisis, this announcement is one twentieth of that.”

Despite quibbles over the quantum in other quarters, the increased warchest was welcomed by Wellington mayor Justin Lester, who said it would indirectly help the city’s efforts to become the world’s first predator-free capital.

He said: “Wellington wants to become predator-free because of the benefits it will bring and it’s great to see the government also committing more to the cause.”

“Twenty-five years ago Wellington was on the cusp of losing native birds in the city. However, the restoration of native bird populations shows what can be achieved with a concerted effort.”

The funding announcement was made at Wellington’s Otari-Wilton’s Bush, which Sage said was an example of the thriving native bush that could be achieved with such work.

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