The chief executives of Forest & Bird, WWF-New Zealand and the Environmental Defence Society (EDS) are deeply concerned following confirmation last night that National intends to cut the Department of Conservation’s (DOC's) budget by 6.5%. This could mean less predator and pest control, the imminent extinction of treasured native species, and impossible pressures on the organisation that manages one-third of our country.
“We understand that the proposed reduction of 6.5% is on the already reduced quantum for next year of $710 million and would result in a $46 million cut. This is defunding an agency that is already severely stretched to manage one-third of Aotearoa,” said Gary Taylor, CEO of EDS.
“Defunding DOC to that extent would be catastrophic for our natural world and we simply won’t stand for it,” said Mr Taylor.
The CEO of WWF-New Zealand Dr Kayla Kingdon-Bebb highlighted the irony of National announcing a proposal to cut conservation funding during a debate in Queenstown, in which the party sought to emphasise the importance of tourism in New Zealand’s economic recovery.
“Visitors to Aotearoa come here for the beauty of our natural landscapes, to experience our wild places and unique biodiversity. New Zealand’s tourism industry depends on the health of our natural environment. Defunding DOC would not only be disastrous for nature, but also for the communities that rely on tourism for their livelihoods.
“I can think of no more expedient way to shoot ourselves in the foot,” said Dr Kingdon-Bebb.
Forest & Bird’s CEO Nicola Toki said the idea of defunding our natural environment in the middle of biodiversity and climate crises was irresponsible leadership.
“We know that investing in nature-based solutions, by increasing protection of wetlands and rivers and controlling browsing pests reduces the impacts of climate events and improves our ability to reduce emissions.
“On top of that we have the dubious honour of having the highest proportion of threatened species per capita in the world. Given our love for our native wildlife, it’s short-sighted and wrong-footed to be reducing the budget of the agency that is tasked with protecting our taonga species.
“DOC’s budget is about the same as the Christchurch City Council’s, but it has to look after a third of Aotearoa,” Ms Toki said.
The three environmental NGOs are asking National’s finance spokesperson to please explain this policy, the analysis that lies behind it, and whether the consequences for New Zealand’s threatened species and ecosystems have been assessed. They say they would be equally concerned at any party’s plans to reduce conservation funding.