Tourism growth in New Zealand, just like our other main export earner, dairy – which is blamed for fouling rivers – is proving to be unsustainable, at least from a national park user’s perspective.
The underfunding of DOC, which is severe, can be seen in overloaded facilities, straining infrastructure and dubious decisions to allow greater incursions by private businesses into ever more of the conservation estate. And that’s just on the recreation side of the ledger. DOC’s primary purpose is conservation, but New Zealand’s woeful rate of species decline carries on.
In our story ‘The parks, they are a changin’ we look at the options available to us to properly fund DOC and compare the way parks are run here to how they are run in America.
We could really learn a thing or two from the Americans. Visitors pay entry fees, and once inside the park can join walks, tours and education programmes run by rangers. I would love to see our rangers run similar, free, services here, mostly because it would put DOC directly in touch with users of the conservation estate and make rangers front and centre in the public eye. In my experience, encounters with rangers and hut wardens are a highlight. They are the ones who cement memories of a place and a time, who foster recreation and species conservation.
So what will the government decide? Will we see a new border tax directly benefiting DOC? Will there be differential charges, where tourists pay more than New Zealanders to stay at a given hut? Perhaps park entry fees will be given the legislative go-ahead.
I personally favour the border tax, but others, notably the Federated Mountain Clubs, are advocating for a portion of the $2billion in GST paid by tourists each year to be sent directly to DOC. Others are pushing for increased funding to come from a combination of these two ideas.
Whatever is decided, another argument looms: how should DOC be prioritising its budget? But that’s for another day.