The Public Service Association is using a survey showing public support for conservation to criticise funding cuts.
A Department of Conservation annual survey of 3,885 people on their attitudes to conservation shows that 85% of New Zealanders consider that conservation is important to them and 77% believe that spending money on conservation is a good investment in the prosperity and wellbeing of New Zealanders.
“DOC staff will undoubtedly welcome that vote of confidence in the important work that they do, but clearly it’s the government which needs to be convinced,” says PSA National Secretary Brenda Pilott.
DOC has been one of the hardest hit by government funding cuts to the public sector, resulting in the loss of around 140 jobs in the past year.
Brenda Pilott says there looks to be no end in sight.
“As the government slashes another $1 billion from departmental budgets this year, DOC is having to embark on yet another review to find an additional $9 million in savings.”
“Funding cuts are already impacting on DOC’s operations and it’s ironic that at a time when the public is saying it values conservation, the government seems bent on running it down,” she says.
I’m surprised the number of people who regard conservation as important isn’t higher but that isn’t an argument for increased funding.
Part of the problem is the large area of the conservation estate which grew considerably under Labour from 1999 – 2008.
Land surrendered from pastoral leases under tenure review was put into DOC’s care without proper regard for the cost of looking after it.
Some of that land has high conservation values but a lot of it doesn’t but DOC is responsible for looking after all of it with an overstretched budget.
The end result is the department, and it’s budget, are spread too thinly.
The solution isn’t more money but less land.
We need to have a discussion about how much land the state should own and that with low conservation values should be taken from the DOC estate to enable the Department to concentrate on the areas most in need of its oversight and care.