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Maggie shares some of the Department of Conservation’s success stories in the House during the Natural Resources section of the Debate on 2013/14 Annual Reviews.

Hon MAGGIE BARRY (Minister of Conservation): Tonight I thought I would talk about some of the outstanding developments that have occurred in the conservation portfolio, and the gains and achievements made for the natural environment in this country. The first one to talk about is one that cost around $13 million. We called it Battle for our Birds. This was a particularly important thing to do because every 10 or 12 years you get a thing called the beech mast where beech trees, particularly in the South Island, will seed, and seed in extraordinary quantities. Something like a million tonnes of seed was due to be dropped, which means, of course, that you get predators who make a lot of bounty out of this. There were estimated to be something like 25 million extra rats, a plague of rats indeed, and with them come the mice and the stoats. So with this threat—veritably a plague—we decided to intervene.

Controversially, we used 1080 aerial drops, which many people do not approve of, but the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, who is independent, has done two particular studies that have shown that 1080 aerial drops are the best weapon that we have these days in trying to ensure that we do not let vast areas of New Zealand turn to waste and be overrun with predators. The trouble with New Zealand is you can have too much of a good thing, and it is such a good environment and such a good place for creatures and plants to grow that some get too good. The 1080 poison drop was entirely successful in that we were able to knock back the predator numbers to the point that, for example, in the Kahurangi National Park, rats were down to near zero levels. What this means, effectively, is that something like 16 species of birds that would otherwise, experts tell us, have been made extinct by this plague of rats, stoats, and possums as well, actually, were then able to be saved. We did that for about 8 months and it was an extremely successful outcome.

The poison 1080 works well in areas where you are unable to do traditional forms of trapping, where hunters and others cannot get in. These are very extreme terrains, and really it was an essential thing and highly successful. We are doing the measurements of it at the moment. The whio, the blue duck, had its most successful breeding programme in 11 years. There are now great numbers of them. The mohua in the Dart and Routeburn valleys has now gone beyond being endangered and is breeding in great numbers. In respect of the Battle for our Birds, over 600,000 hectares of land was a very successful outcome. The Department of Conservation will continue to monitor it. We need to be vigilant.

Kauri die-back is one of the things that, as the incoming Minister of Conservation, I was very concerned about. In last year’s Budget, $26.5 million was allocated to fight this pernicious disease. We do not know what causes it. It attacks in a poison that is soil borne, and it is carried in water. We do not know how it came to New Zealand. We think it was probably here over a very long period of time, maybe around 50 years or so. It is a very slow killer. It affects only Agathis australis, our native kauri tree, and it is incurable. So once a tree is infected, that is the end of it. The money was due to be starting to be spent only in July this year, at the beginning of the financial year, but I felt such was the urgency of the situation, we needed to bring that forward. We have done planning now and are about to execute those plans to have 100 extra kilometres of paths upgraded. That means either in a boardwalk, which is about five kilometres’ worth, or done with gravel. That stops the soil from spreading and that is the way that this kauri die-back disease spreads.

We also have 300 new cleaning stations. These are the kinds of things that we need as a Government to involve the population in, because only by winning hearts and minds and engaging with the public are we able to fight this disease. We need everybody’s cooperation.

Stewardship land is an issue that is about protecting our special places. Our natural environment is under threat by predators, as I have outlined, but it is graded in different layers of protection. Jan Wright, the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, had identified that in her view the stewardship land was not being protected to an adequate level, so we have reclassified some of it. About a month ago we finalised plans for the Aotea Conservation Park, which is on Great Barrier Island. I was able to go over there and open that park. It is not contiguous but you have a large area of land. It adds up to about 42 percent of Great Barrier Island. This area of land is in one particular place, and I think it has about eight or nine other parts that are also under that umbrella protection of a conservation park, which affords it a greater level of protection than we would have otherwise been able to do with stewardship land. We are about to do the same with Mount Aspiring. [Bell rung]

The CHAIRPERSON (Hon Trevor Mallard) : Just before I give the Minister the supplementary call—I will just get her to sit down for a second—and I know there were a lot of members in the Chamber who were not here this afternoon, but I just want to remind members that it is an annual review debate and members must at least give a passing reference to either a report of a select committee on the annual review or the estimates for the year in question, which is not this year but the previous year. Passing reference is fine.

Hon MAGGIE BARRY : The costings when it comes to “Healthy parks, healthy people” have not yet been done, but what we have been availing ourselves of—and why reinvent the wheel in a country like New Zealand. We have gone to Korea, we have gone to the United States, and we have gone to Australia, and received figures from them that are being considered now in terms of forming some legislation that will be going to a select committee in due course. Again, it is what I was saying about classification and stewardship land: the costs of putting a park together are many and varied. I suppose you could look at it and say some things are priceless, and, certainly, when it comes to the reclassification of stewardship land—the degree of work that was done by our officials and then teased out in the select committee environment. Funds were allocated from within baseline with the Department of Conservation. We were then able to go ahead with the Aotea Conservation Park.

When it comes to the concept of “Healthy parks, healthy people”, we are looking to broaden it out. I have spoken already with my colleague the Minister of Health, Dr Jonathan Coleman, about taking some funds from Vote Health and taking some funds from the disability sector, from conservation, and from education because what we want to do is take a holistic approach, which is what some of these other countries have done to try to combat such difficult issues as obesity. By getting children away from their computers and into parks, and by introducing them to the environment and introducing them to the notions and concepts of conservation, their lives will be considerably enriched. As a Government, and as the Minister of Conservation, those are the sorts of initiatives that I am planning for now.

When it comes to the money that we have allocated—as I said earlier, $26.5 million from kauri die-back, for example—that money needs to be allocated in a way that is in keeping with our policy framework and also the needs of the trees themselves. Often you need to be responsive to what is happening around you in the environment, and the progression of something like kauri die-back disease means the re-prioritisation of the moneys that we were intending to spend—and it probably would have been early in the coming summer—we are now not able to do because we do need to move more quickly and respond in a way that is not predetermined but is determined by the way that this disease has spread.

So with the $26.5 million, for example, about a third of that is going to be put into paths and boardwalks; about another third of that is going to be put into the teams of people who will be delivering the services and the things that we need to do to inform the public—and it is public education, as I have said—and the rest of the money is going to be used for science-based information so that we will be able to work out what causes the disease. It is very important, I think, that we do not go past an evidence base, and from my perspective as the Minister, it is enabling me to reach out further, involving people like Sir Peter Gluckman, the Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor, and Scion research, and directing them to give us the evidence that we need to make the decisions to apportion the funds so that they will be most effective and they will be able to do what needs to be done.

I suppose when it comes to birds, in particular—when you look at what is happening to our iconic kiwi—the funds that have been put forward there are adequate, but we need to do more. I remain hopeful that I will be able to prevail in the Budget round and get some more money to bring together a really strategic plan that will enable our kiwi population to stop the decline. At the moment it is declining at a rate of about minus 2 percent a year. We need to get that up to plus 2 percent a year. We are working with various organisations—the NEXT Foundation, Kiwis for Kiwi, and so forth—as a collaborative process. Partnerships with individuals, with philanthropists, and with others will be the thing that, I think, as a nation will enable us to do what needs to be done. As I have said, it is not just up to a Government; it is not just up to a single department.

Although the Department of Conservation is putting not inconsiderable funds into saving kiwis, for example, we are also putting it into the management of weeds. When it comes to wilding pine control, we are collaborating with regional authorities and with local authorities, as well, to ensure that they match the funding that the Government is putting in to halt the spread of wilding pines, which, if unchecked, in the next 25 years will take up nearly a quarter of our landscape. They are choking productive farmland, they are smothering and suffocating our native plant species, and they need to be stopped. But when we allocate money in a Budget sense, which we have been doing over the years, we recognise that it is not at the level that it needs to be, and so we are working in collaboration.

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