The largest landowner in New Zealand by far is the government. Nearly thirty percent of land area in the country is administered by the Department of Conservation ("DOC"). To be fair, a large proportion of this land is rugged, beautiful mountain ranges which are virtually inhabitable. National parks are open to the public, provided they keep the rules, most of which are eminently sensible and life protecting.
Lying behind DOC are the environmental advocacy groups, the most powerful and influential of which is the NZ Forest and Bird Society. For a number of years DOC operational policies in the national parks has effectively been written and sometimes executed by NZ Forest and Bird. The influence of perverse environmentalist extremism has too often apparent. One example is the use of 1080 poison to control, if not eradicate, possums--an introduced species lacking natural predators.
Possums multiply rapidly and consume lots of greenery, threatening forests. Aerial drops of 1080 are carried out by central and local government with the strong support of NZ Forest and Bird. Sadly, it seems that birds are all that matter to this organization and the devastation wrought upon other species is regarded as acceptable collateral damage.
Another example of foolish extremism is antipathy to human beings. Human beings are seen as environmentally destructive simply by virtue of being in, or traversing across, wilderness areas. To these folk the mere presence of humans means environmental degradation and destruction of one sort or other. We have hunted deer over the years in the Tararua Ranges, north of Wellington. DOC has been systematically removing wood burning stoves and heaters from huts on the grounds that burning wood is environmentally destructive. Better to have the occupants of the huts freeze to death. In recent years this asinine policy seems to have been ameoliorated. DOC now transports firewood into some huts.
Like most government departments in New Zealand, DOC is under budget constraints. It is laying off staff. NZ Forest and Bird is not happy.
More than 100 staff at the Department of Conservation are expected to lose their jobs this week. The department will discuss its latest restructuring plan with staff tomorrow. Restructuring last year led to the loss of about 120 staff. Forest & Bird advocacy manager Kevin Hackwell said the latest cuts are expected to be significant, with frontline conservation staff to be laid off in favour of recruiting volunteers.There are plenty of potential volunteers available with lots of energy and a genuine love for the back country and its preservation. Tramping clubs, fishing clubs, and hunting groups spring to mind--but these are not the kind of volunteers which NZ Forest and Bird appreciate. Often times they are seen as part of the problem, part of the threat to maintaining a wilderness--the real environmental nirvana for the extremists.
Co-operative co-management with interested private groups seems a much better approach. Also it will be less costly to the tax payer. It is great to see some examples of government retrenchment and a substitution of its overreach by a range of interest groups and volunteers who are even more committed to reasonable and rational preservation of national parks.