Opinion: It's time for the Government to pay for our conservation future

OPINION: New Zealand's endangered wildlife was in the headlines today when Conservation Minister Maggie Barry announced the Department of Conservation's draft Threatened Species Strategy in Wellington.

Here at Forest & Bird, we give the strategy a four out of 10. While it has some worthy actions, it isn't supported with the funding DoC needs to be proactive about protecting native species, meaning they will continue to act as an ambulance at the bottom of the cliff.

The new strategy, which "prioritises" 150 New Zealand species, fails to account for the other 370 species facing extinction, or the 2000 classified as "at risk", and comes with no extra funding for DoC to implement it.

DoC simply needs more money to protect our environment. As it stands, they're responsible for managing 30 percent of New Zealand's land, protecting our native species, and running national parks, huts, and tracks.

Despite this mammoth task, they spend just 0.45 percent of the Government's $9.59 billion budget. Of that meagre sum, just $160.6 million is spent on natural heritage - that is, looking after our wildlife and wild places.

Little spotted Kiwi
The only funding management plan DoC has in place is for our national bird, the kiwi (Kimberley Collins / supplied)

If the Government was serious about protecting native species - they would increase funding to the Department of Conservation.

By allocating one percent of their annual spending to conservation work, they would more than double DoC's current budget and provide the resources needed to properly protect New Zealand's environment.

Even if you're cynical about the value of nature, New Zealand's wildlife and wild places are a major part of the reason we have 3.5 million international visitors every year. DoC is already struggling to keep up with the ever-increasing demand for our natural attractions. It seems absurd not to look after our main tourism assets.

If we want to properly protect New Zealand's native species, we must be prepared to pay for it now. Once you start to tally up the work that needs to be done, the cost rises quickly. From doing pest control in forests, to removing lead from roofing to protect inquisitive kea - DoC's current budget is inadequate to undertake these important tasks.

As Jesse Mulligan pointed out during his mayday call for DoC on Three's The Project last night, "the organisation in charge of protecting our national parks and wildlife is struggling desperately to do the job".

New Zealand bird tui (Getty)
(Getty / file)

As a proportion of the Government's expenditure, one percent is pretty modest.

Without this extra spending, there is no hope of reversing the biodiversity crisis facing New Zealand and we will lose many more of our precious native species forever - and within our lifetime.

Perhaps this announcement is just another good news story to make New Zealanders think DoC is resourced enough to do its job - despite having its budget slashed by some $336 million since National came to power.

The Government's announcement of a $1.5 billion surplus for the first nine months of this year seems like the perfect opportunity to properly fund the Department of Conservation and genuinely make an effort to protect our wildlife and wild places.

So, come Budget Day, let's hope they listen to New Zealand's mayday for DoC and provide a real future for our threatened species.

Kimberley Collins is a wildlife advocate who works for environmental group Forest and Bird.