Editorial: Don't forget conservation

The Government doesn't always listen to us, and whether it will take our advice on how to spend some of its science budget remains to be seen.

However, we should be delighted to have been asked to have our say on the $60 million put into a series of national science challenges to stimulate research and development during the next four years.

When announced by Prime Minister John Key last year, the scheme was described as an investment to find solutions in four to eight key areas. These would be proposed by the science and innovation minister after consulting industry stakeholders and the science community, including the prime minister's chief science adviser.

This week the scheme was democratised. Science and Innovation Minister Steven Joyce invited New Zealanders - presumably he means all of us - to help identify the key scientific questions that need answers.

Mr Joyce has his own ideas involving the sustainable exploration of our seas, intensifying agriculture while improving the environment, public health, and improving our resilience against natural hazards such as earthquakes, but "it will be up to New Zealanders to let us know what they regard as our biggest challenges".

The Department of Conservation taps into public thinking, too. Its latest annual survey involved phone interviews with 3885 people. A summary reportedly shows that 64 per cent of respondents thought funding DOC was a good use of taxes, 49 per cent said they would like to see more of their taxes spent on conservation, and 77 per cent said spending money on conservation was a good investment in our prosperity and wellbeing.

But last week DOC announced that it would assess the roles of 1200 staff around the country from early next year to save $9 million a year. This follows a restructuring that resulted in 96 job cuts.

Conservationists complain about a threat to back country pest control, weed control and protection projects. DOC says it is working more widely with "external partners" - local government, iwi, private landowners and business.

Conservation costs clearly are being shifted from taxpayers to ratepayers and the private sector. Regardless of the merits of this approach, it overrides the wishes of those surveyed - about half the total - who wanted more tax money spent on conservation.

The Marlborough Express