The Department of Conservation is paying the price for bad government decision-making says the High Country Accord, commenting on the news that the department is having to slash 56 staff in order to live within its budget.
“There is an entrenched belief in the Labour-led government that the nation’s conservation values can be protected only by state ownership. This has led them on an immense spending spree, buying up vast tracts of high country real estate,” says High Country Accord chair Ben Todhunter.
“How much better it would be for taxpayers and the economy if DoC was encouraged to work with private land holders to maximise conservation values on private land.”
He says the Crown already owns more than half the South Island and under the present government was well on its way toward acquiring another 1.5 million hectares of tussock grasslands along the eastern flanks of the Southern Alps and in Central Otago.
“This land grab is over-burdening an already over-stretched department. Not only is there the cost of the land, which is then removed from production, it has to be maintained at substantial expense – an expense which was previously paid for by the farmer.”
Mr Todhunter says the Green and Clarkson review of the New Zealand biodiversity strategy showed that only 2-3 per cent of the existing DoC estate was being intensively managed for biodiversity protection. It highlighted major concerns about the degradation of wetlands, and the adverse effects of introduced weeds and pests on threatened species and forest ecosystems.
“Under these circumstances the government is guilty of a gross misallocation of a limited conservation budget by expanding Crown ownership of high country farmland,” he says.
“It also richly ironic that farming families who have stewarded vulnerable high country eco-systems for 150 years are now being told that the state will do a better job.”