Conservation Minister and Green Party MP Eugenie Sage says DOC has been neglected and conservation needs to be at the forefront of what the department does.
What will your priority as Conservation Minister be for the next three years?
We have a biodiversity crisis and we need much stronger regulation. With Labour, we’ve agreed to the priorities of making significant progress in safeguarding our species threatened with extinction, increasing conservation funding, and the ability to undertake comprehensive pest control and safeguard biodiversity. We also want healthy oceans and abundant fisheries, so we are looking at creating more marine reserves and sanctuaries.
Our indigenous natural heritage is so distinctive and so many of our species are only found in New Zealand that we need much more active and extensive predator control, more active management of our natural areas, and we need to continue to build partnerships with community volunteers.
How can DOC balance its conservation role while also trying to manage a tourism boom?
In the Green Party, we believe in funding environmental protection in conservation land through a border levy – 60 per cent of that would go towards predator control and the balance would go into funding regional tourism infrastructure.
People should be able to come and enjoy our conservation land, but we shouldn’t have all of our tourist services on conservation land – these should be provided in provincial centres, which can act as nodes where tourists can go on guided experiences on public conservation land.
The tourism industry is at risk of losing its social licence with the issues we see arising, like with freedom camping. We can still accommodate visitors while they are here, but we need to do much better at planning.
What can be done about the growing tension between managing the pressure on tourism hotspots and maintaining the Kiwi tramping experience?
We need to look at which front country sites need additional investment, but recognise there are limits. We can’t keep building bigger and bigger huts. We need to be quite strategic about which sites get increased investment. Booking limits are one way to limit numbers, and we need to look across the entire conservation estate before making decisions about where to limit and where to invest.
The daily limits and booking systems with the Great Walks are a natural regulator and create limits to day usage. People have to book and plan ahead with the much more popular sites. I think that’s something people accept in other countries.
Will the two new Great Walks go ahead?
I will need to get advice on that. Our priority is on increasing investment into natural heritage.
What can trampers expect from you in terms of funding recreation facilities like tracks and huts?
It’s too soon to say.
Do you go tramping, and if so, what’s your favourite tramp?
I like Kahurangi National Park for longer walks, but my favourite place for day walks is the Ashburton Lakes in Hakatere Conservation Park. The tracks around Lake Heron and Lake Clearwater are incredible, with the mountains and high country tussock.