Election Year 2017

This year’s been full of political promises around conservation, recreation and tourism. From time to time, over the last few years, I’ve written on DOC funding and spending issues. eg. on tourists and park access fees, on spending versus funding, and on some of DOC’s own comments about its funding.

I’ve found these discussions tiring, at least in general media, because they tend to be very politically charged when I’d rather be out tramping. The discussions are mostly repetitive, and buried in hypotheticals without detail.

This changed with the government’s recent declaration that it would charge foreign tourists between 50% and 100% more for hut bookings on Great Walks. There doesn’t seem to have been any obvious consultation to reach this point, other than perhaps monitoring of the ambiguous rage in the social media, or something like that. There was probably always something coming, but it came out of the blue.

Other parties are suggesting border levies to get more money from tourists and spend it on conservation, or (in the case of the Green Party) a general doubling of DOC’s funding. The public discussion is largely about finding scraps of money for conservation (optimally from someone else) and then throwing it in an approximate direction of conservation in the expectation that something magical might happen, which to me seems to generally be a distraction from discussing some or all of the problems that need solving around the conservation estate.

Anyway, it’s election year.

For people who can vote in New Zealand, Federated Mountain Clubs (FMC) has compiled a helpful list of political party responses to questions posed by FMC, regarding their respective conservation policies. The linked page contains summaries of positions, as prepared by FMC. The end of the list has a reference to a PDF with the full responses. If you’re looking for a comparison between party policies then it’s a helpful place to start.

Alongside this, the NZ Science Media Centre has also quizzed political parties on a variety of issues.

Posted in update | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

The absurdity of Ruataniwha

I’ve not previously written here about the Ruataniwha Dam situation. Today’s decision in the Supreme Court, however, is highly significant. It’s not just significant for the Ruahine Range, but for the future of all Conservation Parks and Forest Parks in New Zealand.

Gareth and Craig walk up part of the Makaroro River that’s proposed for flooding,
29th March 2013.

As background, Hawke’s Bay Regional Investment Company (HBRIC, owned by Hawke’s Bay Regional Council) wanted to build an irrigation dam to support more intensive farming in the district. The only practical plan included flooding 22 hectares of Ruahine Forest Park, next to the Makaroro River. For this to happen, the Minister of Conservation and DOC arranged to swap the land in question for some alternative land that could be added to Ruahine Forest Park.

The decision agitated many people for many reasons, but the most relevant legal point is that the Conservation Act only allows Stewardship Land to be traded away. It doesn’t allow for the trading of Specially Protected Areas. To circumvent this, DOC first down-graded the status of the land to Stewardship Land so it could be lawfully traded, but the law’s unclear about whether it’s legal to downgrade Specially Protected Areas for this reason.
Continue reading

Posted in musing | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Media fanning the flames of regulation

Details are still thin, but it’s sad to learn of another death on Mt Taranaki. Not much detail has yet been released, except that an accident appears to have occurred somewhere in the vicinity of Ambury Bluff and Humphries Castle on the north-eastern side of the mountain [approximate map]. The conditions were winter conditions, but until more official details emerge I don’t think it’s fair to speculate too much.

The article, from the Taranaki Daily News, is interesting for other reasons, though. It appears to be planting an idea for some kind of regulation, even though there’s no evidence presented that anyone’s actually asked for it.
Continue reading

Posted in musing | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

FMC’s new magazine website

Federated Mountain Clubs has, over the last short while, been quietly introducing its new Wilderlife website (think “wilder life”) .

It’s a magazine-style website which, so far at least, revives much of the really good content that was previously only seen in the FMC Bulletin (now renamed ‘Backcountry’). It also has space for contributions. Wilderlife is definitely worth a look just for its magazine content, but the site goes deeper than this.

For one thing, the site includes an online, and free, edition of Safety In The Mountains. Safety In The Mountains is FMC’s flag-ship and straight-to-the-point handbook of good and practical advice for how to get around whilst remaining safe when outdoors. The content was thoroughly revised in 2012 (my review is here). FMC’s emphasis with the booklet has always been to keep it as affordable and available as possible. The online edition remains current and full of worthwhile advice. Maybe FMC’s movements in this area have been encouraged by the Mountain Safety Council’s recent shift away from training and towards more basic safety messaging, combined with research.

Wilderlife’s Magazine area is already reviving older FMC Bulletin Backcountry Accident reports. Whilst a grim topic, these reports have highly valuable information for learning about how and why accidents occur and how to avoid them.

It’s definitely worth browsing. I hope Wilderlife continues growing and becomes a comprehensive resource.

Posted in musing | Tagged , | Leave a comment

The Tararua on TV

Even if you’re not into hunting, the latest episode of NZ Hunter Adventures (Ep 9, Series 3) is probably of wider interest.

It’s viewable online on Choice TV’s website for the next 3 weeks, free registration required.

The episode features an expedition into the Tararua Range, with Derrick Field of the Ex NZ Forest Service group, which in modern times has taken over the maintenance of several of the range’s back-country huts. It’s definitely worth a watch if you’ve interest in the history of the range.


Posted in musing | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Floyd Pond: A New Tararua Lake

There’s an interesting report on Stuff this evening about a landslide in the upper Tauherenikau catchment of the Tararua, which has created a new lake in the catchment surrounded by the Dress Circle and Alpha. The new lake was reported by Floyd, Joe Nawalaniec, Franz Hubmann and Paul McCredie, so kudos to them.

There’s a suggestion that the landslide might have been caused by the mag 7.8 earthquake in November, although as yet this is unconfirmed. The same earthquake created many new lakes in the south island, but this would be the first reported in the north.

Its stated location is lat -40.968234, long 175.296307 lat -40.969645 long 175.295829, which converts to a grid ref of around 5462230 5462074 (northing) and 1793222 1793179 (easting) when expressed in NZTM. With Topo50 maps that translates to BP33 932 621 (on BP33 Featherston).

The group is informally naming it Floyd Pond, after the dog. It’ll most likely now become a new destination for some of the more adventurous and skilled visitors to the range.

Posted in musing | Tagged , , | 8 Comments

DOC’s Comments on Funding

Lou Sanson, Director-General of DOC, was on TV3/Newshub this evening. He was talking about the possibility of charging for entry to certain National Parks. The angle of the report from Samantha Hayes was that New Zealand should charge more for stuff because everyone else does.

Numbers of tourists have been straining DOC’s ability to cope with managing their effects on the lands it manages, and so this has been a recurring topic in the last while. I’ve written about it in both December and March of 2016, and there’s been plenty of ongoing debate since.

A couple of things in this item really didn’t sit well with me.
Continue reading

Posted in musing | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Protecting Paradise, by Dave Hansford (my thoughts)

Before I launch into this, I’ll insert a word for one of the best presentations I’ve ever seen on how the world’s going, and the impact we’ve had on it.

Less than a week before his death in May 2001, Douglas Adams gave a brilliant talk at the University of California titled “Parrots, the Universe and Everything“. He conveys many of his experiences and insights on extinction, mostly derived from his time producing the BBC’s Last Chance to See radio series in 1989. Adams’ 2001 talk is helpfully preserved online by Ted (link above) and I highly recommend it. He’s an excellent and humorous speaker yet his points are serious and well made. If you’ve limited time, jump to 26 minutes for his amusing experiences with the Kakapo, which he declares as a favourite of all the animals he saw.

Now, onto this largely unrelated book…


The full title of the book is Protecting Paradise: 1080 And The Fight To Save New Zealand’s Wildlife. It’s authored by Dave Hansford, published by Potton & Burton, and was released in October 2016. The publisher’s website seems to claim 250 pages, but the main text of the printed edition actually finishes on page 265. This is followed by 2 pages of acknowledgments, 6 pages of appendix, 31 pages of references and a 14 page index. That’s around 318 pages total. The 265 pages of regular text is divided into 22 chapters, averaging around 11 to 12 pages each. The book retails for $34.95, but it’s often possible to get discounts if you shop around, or check if the local library has it.

265 pages might sound daunting at first, but it well written. Chapters are well structured without being too long. Editing is of high quality. It’s easy to read. It’s not necessary to have a scientific background.

If this review isn’t enough, you’ll find an alternative review at SciBlogs, plus the author’s been interviewed by Jamie Morton of the NZ Herald and by Wallace Chapman on RadioNZ.


Protecting Paradise has been touted as a book about use of the 1080 toxin in New Zealand. 1080 is primarily used by the Department of Conservation for controlling rats, possums and stoats on the conservation estate, and by OSPRI (formerly the Animal Health Board) for controlling bovine tuberculosis, which largely spreads through possums. Right from the front cover it’s clearly framed as a 1080 book, yet it’d be a disservice to the author’s efforts to suggest it’s only about 1080, because the book is not a just raw explanation of 1080 and what it does. Rather, Dave Hansford has produced a comprehensive guide to the history, present and future of pest impact and pest control in New Zealand, including its social impacts.

It’s mildly ironic that a large component of conservation in New Zealand is about killing things. Explaining 1080’s role and workings in pest control is well covered, but it’s appropriate that the Protecting Paradise narrative goes well beyond this. The author’s spent large parts of the book examining what is increasingly becoming a social and ethical issue in New Zealand. Alongside the objective analysis, he’s spoken to a wide range of people to draw a picture of how pests, pest control and 1080 affects them, and what it means to them.

Lane read my mind, fixed me with a level stare: ‘Would you drink that water, knowing it had 1080 in it?’ I said that I wouldn’t, and I meant it. I don’t share his blanket antagonism to 1080, but most of us might empathise with his experience. We all carry the caution gene. What’s more, we like to think that we carry a sense of natural justice: there’s something understandably disturbing about a Government dropping poison from the air—against the express wishes of some—around our homes and across our treasured spaces. That’s powerful, almost Orwellian, imagery, and it’s a potent anathema.

—page 76.

Continue reading

Posted in reviews | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

It’s about the spending as much as the funding

Last March I expressed my views here on calls to add more charges in various forms to parks and their facilities, and particularly on differential charging for tourists.

Recently this topic has been refreshed in media. It might be because the NZ Tourism Industry Association (the main association of subscribing businesses who charge tourists for experiences) having released a report arguing that there should be more privatisation in the operation of public assets, and suggesting more money should be raised directly from their users. The report is announced here, which includes a download link for a 24 page executive summary.

Here’s some more random and recent coverage on the topic, all from Fairfax: Kiwis risk losing an ‘unalienable right to wild places’ (23 Dec 2016), Dominion Post Editorial (27 Dec 2016) – Yes to a tourist tax, Tramping group fights plans to charge tourists for using Great Walks (30 Dec 2016).

Great Walks have been singled out in the popular media discussion, with much made of the point that Great Walks “lost” around $3 million last financial year. The Tourism Industry argues that DOC runs them inefficiently, and that much could be gained with forms of privatisation.

In my March 2016 post I’ve already expressed most of my views and reasoning around charging for access. On the Great Walk thing, I’d just add that since their inception, Great Walks were never intended to make a profit. There are multiple intents with Great Walks, but part of their purpose was to attract the masses of visitors to a few very specific places where so many people could be more easily managed.

It’s safer, and often more enjoyable, for people with lower skill and experience levels. At the same time much of the visitor pressure is lifted off the rest of the network. If costs get too high, there’s a higher incentive for people to disburse through all the other random places which are harder for DOC to predict and preempt their management for higher visitor numbers. That’s especially a risk when everyone’s so easily trading secrets in the internet forums and back rooms of backpackers about the best next place to go which authorities haven’t yet caught up with.

It should be about the spending

Something I didn’t address in my previous post is that I think much of this discussion is being misguided from the start. Reports and discussions and social media threads are mostly considering methods of funding DOC, or funding the Conservation Estate if not DOC. Maybe it’s about whether there should border taxes or entry fees or conservation passes or increased facility fees. Anything to make up for the lack of public funds which we’re providing! Talking about funding sources, though, doesn’t actually address the question of how much money is needed, nor what we could expect from it.

My own view is that New Zealand’s issues, at least when it comes to spending, are largely about how much we, as a population, value the land and what’s in it.
Continue reading

Posted in musing | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Is this normal?

On Friday 22nd October, 2016 (last couple of paragraphs):

Pouakai Hut

Meanwhile, police also rescued two people who had got lost on the Pouakai track on Friday.

The pair were reached at Pouakai Hut on Friday afternoon, and were walked out on Friday evening, a police spokeswoman said.

Then, on Thursday 17th November, 2016:

Search and rescue staff have headed up to Pouakai hut to rescue two trampers that were “cold and wet and a little bit lost”.

A police spokeswoman said they had called emergency services after becoming stuck at the hut on the top of the Pouakai Ranges in Egmont National Park near Mt Taranaki.

The spokeswoman said staff were preparing to head up to the pair at 1.30 on Thursday afternoon and would walk them out of the park.

The pair had food and water, and were not in immediate danger, she said.

Here is Pouakai Hut on a map.

I’m not a Taranaki local but I’m there frequently enough that I’m not a complete stranger to Pouakai Hut or the Pouakai Range. It’s a 1.5 to 2 hour walk up, for the reasonably fit, from the end of Mangorei Road. Most of that walk is under trees, and virtually all of it is artificially stepped and boardwalked.

When I read about the first event I was surprised that someone could reach Pouakai Hut and still require help. Maybe it was just bad timing when asking for help, or being exhausted having somehow become lost amongst the heavily artificially tracked Pouakai Range. Less than a month later, however, it’s apparently happened again. Two people found their way to Pouakai Hut and, somehow, didn’t feel capable of getting themselves down.
Continue reading

Posted in musing | Tagged , , | 4 Comments