D-G Direct: An update from Lou Sanson

Department of Conservation —  12/05/2017

By Lou Sanson, Director-General

Tourism funding boost

Ministers Bennett and Barry yesterday announced a $76 million funding boost to DOC to help us respond to the current and future challenges of the fast-growing tourism sector.

DOC is uniquely positioned to respond to the increase in tourism, due to our dual responsibility – as the agency who oversees the conservation of our special places and protection of biodiversity, alongside our role as a provider of recreation experiences.

It is critical that we proactively manage the impact on our special places and these new funds increase our ability to do this.

Predator Free 2050 provides a new vision for New Zealand and sets us up to be one of the world’s great nature tourism destinations.

While increased visitor growth changes the context for DOC’s existing recreation and tourism work, this focus does not impact on the DOC’s biodiversity work which is quite separate. Biodiversity remains the largest component of DOC’s annual expenditure at $180 million.

Since 2014 we have seen $100 million of new resource into biodiversity. The pre-budget announcement is the most significant new resource for recreation, historic and tourism since 2002.

The more people use our great outdoors, the more visitor facilities pay for themselves. We’ve just announced modest hut and camping fee increases as part of our latest Great Walks pricing review, which are set to bring in an extra $880,000 to the Department.  Any surplus funds will be reinvested into our biodiversity work.

It’s clear to me that conservation and tourism are not conflicting ideals. It is not one at the expense the other. New Zealand’s biodiversity and spectacular scenic landscapes makes a significant contribution to our tourism industry and New Zealand’s wealth. If managed correctly, tourism can make a significant contribution to protecting these valuable assets.

Minister of Conservation Maggie Barry with Trisha Dwyer and Ross Shearer (from DOC) at TRENZ.

Minister of Conservation Maggie Barry with Trisha Dwyer and Ross Shearer (from DOC) at TRENZ

Draft Threatened Species Strategy

Wednesday was a great day in our nation’s journey towards a future where our threatened native plants and animals are safeguarded and on the path to recovery.

New Zealand’s first-ever draft Threatened Species Strategy was launched by Minister Barry, followed by the Threatened Species Summit. Speakers from Sir Rob Fenwick to the Australian Threatened Species Ambassador spoke of the challenges and opportunities for protecting New Zealand’s most threatened plants and animals.

Draft Threatened Species Strategy.

Draft Threatened Species Strategy

The strategy tells the story of habitat loss and predator impacts and plots out a path so we can halt the decline in our threatened species and restore them to healthy populations. This includes focus areas and specific goals to ensure that we make progress and meet the strategy’s vision to safeguard our vulnerable threatened species.

I know we can win the battle – Predator Free 2050 has created a wave of enthusiasm throughout New Zealand to rid the country of our worst introduced predators and we have sturdy foundations in the Battle for our Birds, War on Weeds and other key conservation initiatives.

Biosecurity – myrtle rust and Undaria

Last week we saw two concerning developments for conservation and primary industries.

Firstly, the confirmed arrival of myrtle rust in mainland New Zealand. The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) has shown great leadership and DOC staff have been major contributors to New Zealand’s biggest ever biosecurity incursion response, with over 200 staff involved.

Martyn Dunne (D-G of MPI) and I will both be visiting our staff working on the response.

Peter De Lange did a really informative Radio Live interview on Saturday, I recommend you give it a listen.

Secondly, a population of the pest seaweed Undaria has been found in Breaksea Sound, Fiordland, in an area near where Environment Southland, DOC and MPI are close to eradication of this pest. It is likely this is a separate incursion.

I know how soul destroying biosecurity incursions are to all and sincerely thank everyone assisting with the response.

Cave Creek anniversary

On 28 April DOC reflected on the tragedy of Cave Creek 22 years ago. This is a day the department will never forget. Remembering the lives of the 14 people that died at Cave Creek will always be our touchstone in how we make health and safety our number one priority.

World Park Leaders Forum – Queenstown

Members of my leadership team and I were honoured to host World Park Leaders here in New Zealand. The equivalent of the Director-General roles from Australia, Canada, Colombia, Israel and South Africa along with staff from IUCN Switzerland and the Chair of the WCPA (World Commission on Protected Areas) attended. This was the first meeting of world parks leaders since 2010, and the first in New Zealand.

What emerged was the consistency of issues we all face in parks and protected area management.

• Rapidly increasing tourism numbers across the world was the single biggest issue all agencies are dealing with as people seek out nature above all other leisure activities (Columbia parks up 30% in visitor number in 12 months).

• Securing a constituency amongst future generations, or social licence, for protected areas and conservation work. Healthy Nature Healthy People and #NatureForAll were seen as critical because they engage the public with nature. Environmental education and community engagement were big topics of conversation.

• New Zealand’s leadership on Te Urewera and Whanganui River were regarded as right at the forefront of working with indigenous people.

• All agencies were challenged by rapidly moving digital engagement platforms and a move away from visitor centre gateways to social media gateways.

• Using new technology to improve and reduce cost of ecosystem monitoring was seen as a significant opportunity to influence conservation investment.

• Biosecurity and invasive alien species are internationally getting increased focus as climate change impacts ecosystems.

World Park Leaders Forum meeting in Queenstown.

World Park Leaders Forum meeting in Queenstown

Ranstad Award – most attractive public sector employer

On Thursday 4 May, DOC was awarded the Randstad Award for most attractive employer in the public sector for the third year running.


Mervyn English, on behalf of DOC, accepting the Ranstad award for most attractive employer in the public sector.

Mervyn English, on behalf of DOC, accepting the Ranstad award for most attractive employer in the public sector

We were the second most desired organisation to work for in New Zealand, after Air New Zealand, and sincerely congratulate them as our commercial partner.

This is outstanding recognition of the great respect New Zealanders have for the talented, hard-working and dedicated people who work at DOC, the work we do and the thousands of volunteers, community groups, commercial partners and iwi that help us every week look after Our Nature.

MPI, MfE and DOC working together

For the first time ever the three senior leadership teams from the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI), Ministry for the Environment (MfE) and DOC met together for a day to focus how we work together as three key government agencies “to enhance the natural assets of New Zealand on which our people and economy depend”.

Leadership teams of DOC, MPI and MfE.

Leadership teams of DOC, MPI and MfE

We were joined by David Smol (Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment Chief Executive) and Peter Chrisp (New Zealand Trade and Enterprise Chief Executive) who described the value proposition for all New Zealanders of how our three agencies could best effect change in a number of crucial areas; as New Zealand businesses increasingly focus on premium consumers over commodity products and why our natural ecosystems are absolutely crucial to the New Zealand Story and brand.

Rapidly in New Zealand, environmental issues, Māori interests and business interests are converging.

We agreed the three critical issues MPI, MfE and DOC would work together on:

• Freshwater (our over-arching single most critical issue)
• Climate Change
• Biodiversity and biosecurity (Biosecurity 2025, Predator Free 2050, TB Free New Zealand)

We agreed we also needed a critical focus on marine before it becomes a New Zealand wide issue similar to freshwater.

Kea – Spirit of our Southern Alps

I was able to join 99 people from all over the country at New Zealand’s first Kea Konvention at Arthur’s Pass organised by the Kea Conservation Trust and Federated Mountain Clubs of New Zealand (FMC), with a single focus to save kea from extinction.

Numbers of kea are declining due to a wide range of threats and this is likely to continue without wide-spread predator control throughout kea habitat. The Trust has been going for 11 years and has developed a Strategic Plan for Kea Conservation as well as Kea Community Plans for nine kea hotspots across the South Island. Local communiites in these areas are engaged in monitoring, advocacy, education, conflict resolution, threat mitigation and helping sick or injured birds.

Konvention participants came from far and wide to network and listen to over a dozen speakers discuss all things kea. Among those were talks from Kea Conservation Trust, FMC, DOC, universities, Arthur’s Pass locals, the forestry industry and the Fiordland Wapiti Foundation.

For me the big take-away message was around kea populations and trends, and the role of 1080. A presentation from one of our science advisors showed the critical role Battle for our Birds and use of aerial 1080 is playing. In just three years the Battle for our Birds programme has improved the position for kea survival within 20% of kea habitat in the Southern Alps. Where aerial 1080 operations have occurred nesting success has been way up.

Other topics and discussions included:

• Monitoring and nest protection project in Nelson Lakes National Park
• Conflict resolution and the importance of NOT feeding kea. …ever!
• Effects of lead poisoning on kea and lead removal projects
• Research on kea and sheep strike on high country stations
• Kea intelligence, diet and behaviour.

What was abundantly clear from the convention is that there is both serious concern and overwhelming enthusiasm for the charismatic kea, with a strong commitment to continue and also scale up efforts to ensure their long-term survival.

Watch this clip to learn why kea need to be distracted!

The kea gymnasium will be installed at the far corner of the Homer Tunnel car park in time for summer. It is hoped that it will distract some of the kea away from the road where vehicles stop and either enter or exit the tunnel.

Downers, who will install the gym, will also maintain it and put a camera on it to monitor success and kea behaviours.

Sue Streatfield (DOC) and Tamsin Orr-Walker (Kea Conservation Trust) with Homer Tunnel kea gymnasium.

Sue Streatfield (DOC) and Tamsin Orr-Walker (Kea Conservation Trust) with Homer Tunnel kea gymnasium

Ken Bradley’s retirement – Te Anau

My Deputy Director-General Operations and I represented DOC with 150 others at the remarkable This is Your Life function celebrating Ken Bradley’s work of 48 years in Fiordland National Park.

Milford Track 1996. From left: Nick Smith, Bill English, Dave Wilson, Lou Sanson and Ken Bradley.

Milford Track 1996. From left: Nick Smith, Bill English, Dave Wilson, Lou Sanson and Ken Bradley

Most notable was his continuous work on the Milford Track since 1972, where he has walked it 100 times (he has walked the Clinton Valley 500 times!).

Ken also played a huge role in Fiordland heritage conservation, volunteer working holidays and led the introduction of DOC’s visitor asset inventory system immediately after Cave Creek.

He leaves an outstanding legacy for all New Zealanders.