By Al Morrison, Director-General.
Conservation matters every minute of every day of every week. But for all that, welcome to Conservation Week. It’s a week when we focus public attention on conservation and this year our theme is around getting whānau involved.
We want conservation to be a family affair. Actually, we want it to be something that all New Zealanders engage in across all of New Zealand.
That’s fundamentally why DOC has been making changes to the way we work. We want to help New Zealanders understand, much better than we do now, that we all need to take care of our native plants, animals and special places so that they can take care of us.
DOC has a special job to do looking after the public conservation land and our native plants, animals and birds and we will continue to take the lead on that. But it isn’t enough. Fencing off a place where the forest is healthy, the bird song is loud and the river runs crystal clear means there is a place where New Zealanders can go to see our natural environment as it was before people and pests stuffed it up. That’s important. But it can’t stop there. We have to make sure the whole river system is healthy, from the mountains to the sea and in to the marine environment. That task is beyond DOC alone. We need to work with community groups, iwi, local government, business, private landowners, and you if we are going to succeed.
The challenge New Zealand faces is not just to claim the Clean Green brand, but live it. We’re a bit mixed on that front at present, and it’s going to take some effort from all of us to get nature in a healthy state and functioning well everywhere. We need to stop making the value of nature invisible; and when we take from nature we need to give back. It’s about balance and harmony.
DOC has gone through a tough period of change over recent years to adjust to that challenge. The change is complete and now we’re in to making it happen. You know our staff. They are passionate, committed, capable, highly skilled and knowledgeable. They have always made a positive difference for New Zealand. Now they are fit and ready to make an even bigger difference.
It’s a fresh start under fresh leadership. That means I’m leaving and this is my last week. It is time for me to let go and hand the reigns to DOC’s new Director-General Lou Sanson. Lou has been Chief Executive of Antarctic New Zealand for the last 11 years but he comes out of DOC’s stable. He knows the business, loves it, and is committed to implementing the course we have set.
DOC is in good shape and in good hands.
I know not everyone agrees with the direction I have led DOC in. You can’t reorganise around a bold, ambitious new approach and expect no criticism. And we need critics because that keeps us on our toes and forces us to question and improve.
But the conservation movement doesn’t have time to sit around and endlessly argue the toss. There is an urgent need to address New Zealand’s environmental performance and DOC has a strong place in meeting the challenge. It is a time to be ambitious and push beyond our comfort zone.
It is a time for conservationists to, as the Irish poet and Nobel Laureate Seamus Heaney, who passed away recently, so elegantly put it: “Walk on air against your better judgement”.