Conservation is NZ's greatest hope

20:55, Jun 17 2012
A Takahe chick on Maude Island.

To defend a thing, you have to know what you're fighting for. At Forest & Bird, our defensive advocacy on conservation threats is informed by a positive long-term vision for the future.

We campaign for the future every day. For example, our campaign to save the Denniston Plateau and "keep the coal in the hole" is about our climate future. Lobbying on exclusive economic zone and marine reserves legislation will set in place a framework for managing New Zealand's vast, fragile and complex marine environment.

We think conservation holds New Zealand's greatest promise: a future for us all to look forward to, where there is a place in nature, forever, for all of us. And we want to be able to say: this is what we stand against, because this is what we stand for.

That's why we're hosting a conference at Wellington's Te Papa, called Face Up to the Future. It means facing up to the truth about how poorly New Zealand is performing on the environment, despite professing and promising to do better, but it also spells optimism and hope.

Everyone, in their own way, contemplates New Zealand's future and imagines what they'd like to find there. I'd like to see us exploring the possibilities of wildness areas where we just let nature be, including in our own back yards. We do some of that, not always very well. That might be a topic for another day.

Meanwhile, the conference weaves together two themes: about collaboration and working together beyond conservation lands.

One conservation trend in recent years has been about acknowledging the complexity of some of the biggest challenges we face as a country, and the need for collaboration among business, economists, scientists, primary producers, conservationists, and politicians in solving them. The world needs activists, perhaps more now than ever before; but it also needs dialogue.

That may mean reconciling strongly held principles with pragmatism. Keynote speaker Gareth Morgan, along with conservation and iwi leaders, will be talking about whose business conservation is.

"The sound of an immense heart beating in the night," wrote Douglas Adams, about kakapo. Natural heritage is our heart and soul in this country, and mauri (life force). Sustaining it is an investment - a fraction of what is being spent on other priorities - which arguably government should be making on behalf of us all. But others want to help.

Since most of New Zealand is not protected, biodiversity is most threatened in the places where development happens. Among those confronting and managing that challenge is Queen's Birthday honours recipient Clive Paton, who will speak at the conference.

His Aorangi Restoration Trust manages a Wairarapa network of private land, which stretches from the forest to the sea, with different types of ecosystems, and land uses. It's a community project that the Conservation Department's Al Morrison calls "the future of conservation".

We also need to write rules around biodiversity offsetting, a strategy being pursued more often by developers, where unavoidable harm done by development is offset by some sort of investment to compensate - say, a breeding programme to replace birds mortally affected by a wind farm.

Having just seen millions of taxpayer dollars and thousands of hours wasted by state-owned Meridian Energy pursuing the failed Mokihinui hydro dam project where conservation values were clearly irreplaceable, we need a better common understanding of what is acceptable and what is not.

But for my money, Jeff Williams offers the best last word about the future. Formerly a farmer of a big dairy herd, he now manages his land biologically.

He quotes: "Man, despite his artistic pretensions, his sophistication and his many accomplishments, owes his existence to a six-inch layer of top soil and the fact that it rains."

Claire Browning is a Forest & Bird conservation advocate. Forest & Bird's Face Up to the Future conference is at Te Papa today and tomorrow.


The Dominion Post