Myrtle rust cost to New Zealand conservation unknown

Department of Conservation Director General Lou Sanson and Wakatipu operations manager Geoff Owen, both kneeling at the ...
Debbie Jamieson

Department of Conservation Director General Lou Sanson and Wakatipu operations manager Geoff Owen, both kneeling at the front, with 17 national park leaders and managers from around the world who have been meeting in Queenstown at the World Protected Areas Leaders Forum.

The discovery of myrtle rust in New Zealand is "the last thing" the Department of Conservation needs, director general Lou Sanson says.

Sanson has spent two days in Queenstown meeting with equivalent conservation leaders from 17 countries including South Africa, Canada, Israel, Colombia, Australia, Switzerland and Great Britain.

Among the items on their agenda was biodiversity threats and myrtle rust was a hot topic as it had been confirmed in New Zealand a day earlier.

" going to cost us hundreds of thousands of dollars which takes money away from conservation," Sanson said.

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"It's another thing we just didn't need. It could be tragic for rata, our pohutakawa, our manuka."

Australia had been dealing with it for four years, he said.

"They've lost a number of plant species but it hasn't created the massive lost of forest we've seen in Hawaii.  Let's hope the species that's come into New Zealand is not as virulent as the Hawaiian one."

As of Friday the Department began building a plan on how to cope with the disease but had been watching if for a while.

"We've been very nervous about it because it's come out of South America, it's blown into California, it's blown into Hawaii...then to have it crop up on Raoul Island and then two weeks later in Kerikeri. It's the last thing we need as a conservation manager."

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The World Protected Areas Leaders Forum had been an inspirational forum to share ideas around conservation lands with a focus on tourism this year, he said.

"The key industry we are all facing is massive growth in tourism. Colombia grew about 30 per cent in the last year, we're growing about 10 to 15 per cent, Israel is growing at 20. Antarctic tourism has grown 30 per cent in the last year."

Some countries like South Africa were reducing Government funding but increasing fees to cope while the Australian Government was putting more money in.

One shared concern was the move to seasonal and contract staff, which was having an impact on staff morale and making if more difficult to have a career in conservation management.

Wilding species and climate change were also shared concerns.

"Australia Park Services is spending 25 per cent of their budgets on fire. In Parks Victoria alone they are spending more on fire than the entire Department of Conservation budget.

There were also "incredible" issues other countries dealt with, Sanson said.

"The chief executive of Colombian Park Service, until last year, used to go everywhere with police escort or the army because of guerillas and mines. She has 4000ha of cocoa leaf in her parks.

"The South African's have a $100 million deal with Warren Buffett to tidy up rhino and elephant poaching. These are things we don't ever think of."




 - Stuff


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