Commercial Consents and Pest Control (watch that space)

Maybe this is old news, but I was interested to discover tonight, through a press release of a speech last night, that the Parliamentary Commissioner of the Environment (PCE) is beginning an investigation into commercial use of conservation land.

The PCE was in the news in June, at the release of an evaluation of the use of 1080 poison for pest control in New Zealand forests. The findings were very positive towards its use, and strongly encouraged a big increase in its use, as long as it were being done with due care. This inflamed criticism from some areas because 1080 poison is controversial in some communities, particularly parts of the hunting community.

The PCE’s speech from last night re-iterates her strong belief that, by a large amount, the biggest threat to the conservation estate is the onslaught of pests—particularly possums, rats and stoats. She then draws lines between this problem and some of the proposed solutions that include commercial involvement, and how they might be impacting on the rest of the estate, for better or worse.

I won’t try to pre-empt the findings of a report for which work has barely begun, and obviously you should read the entire speech if it interests you, but the speech gives some insights into the issues that have prompted this investigation. Some paraphrased quotes from the speech that I find interesting are:

On commercial use:

I have no quarrel – in principle – with commercial use of the conservation estate. It is an enormous asset and there is no reason why there should not be a monetary return on that asset. […] If we are to restore the dawn chorus to our mainland, we need a lot more money. And most of that is not going to come from taxpayers. […] But – and this is a big but – it must be done well. It should be based on principles, not done in an ad hoc way. […] Conservation is the priority – therefore – at a minimum — there should be no net damage to conservation.

On mining:

Mines do not appear to be dealt with in the standard concessions system. […] I was really surprised how little money appeared to be paid by companies that were digging up gold and coal and other minerals on conservation land. Miners with access to many hectares are paying access fees in the low thousands. My staff have had a look at some of the access agreements for mines.

I am concerned because there is a confusing mish mash of different kinds of payments:

  • one-off payments,
  • dollars per year,
  • dollars per hectare,
  • administration cost recovery,
  • dollars per mature tree killed,
  • dollars per square metre of vegetation removed,
  • bonds,
  • in-kind payments such as track maintenance.

Maybe there are good reasons for this mish mash, but maybe there aren’t. I’m not picking on mining here—it’s just seems to be different from the other [concessions] and I’m curious.

On revenue from concessions:

Revenue can be money or it can be paid in-kind – pest control, track provision, track maintenance, hut use. Money is very attractive because it preserves flexibility – it can be spent in different ways as priorities change. But Treasury will take it back if you haven’t spent it at the end of the financial year. And in these straitened economic times, it will inevitably be used to offset cuts in base funding. […] So I think there may be a great deal of merit in in-kind payments, and the kind I’m interested in is pest control.

My thinking is that DOC should get on the front foot – take control of the negotiation, not just respond to an offer made by the company applying for a concession.

On stewardship land and land swaps:

Stewardship land is the only land that can be swapped. And really the term “land swap” is very unsatisfactory. The conservation estate is not just land – it is trees and birds and tussocks and snails and eels and geckos and mosses. It’s tramping and camping and kayaking and climbing mountains and just sitting and looking.

I have heard stewardship land described as an invitation for not just commercial use, but for any kind of development. It is not legislatively protected in the same way as other land managed by DOC. And some of that stewardship land may well have greater conservation value than much of the land in National Parks. It’s time to have a good look at what’s in Phillip Woollaston’s holding pen.

On anomalies in legislation around wilderness areas, and heli-hunting:

There are eleven specially designated wilderness areas on land managed by DOC. They have no tracks and no huts. Those intrepid souls who go there have to tramp for days from the end of a track to get to them. You are not allowed to get a helicopter to fly you into a wilderness area. If the experience of being in a wilderness area is interrupted by the thud thud thud of a helicopter, it is probably heli-hunting.

Heli-hunting for those of you who don’t know is the pursuit of an animal to the point of exhaustion, then shooting it. Usually chamois or thar – in order to get a fine trophy head. So why is heli-hunting allowed in wilderness areas? It’s because it is considered to be pest control under the Wild Animal Control Act. You couldn’t get a concession to film a movie in a wilderness area but you can chase an animal—noisily for miles—and shoot it.

The report is due to be released next year. I’ll look forward to reading it.

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