Putting our money where our mouths are

Obviously the furore over the DOC cuts is something close to my heart. I've written about the constant whittling of our conservation department previously here; here and here

It is saddening to me that while this country relies on the stuff DOC looks after to drive our 22 billion dollar tourism industry (75% of tourists come here because of wildlife and wild places), we don't want to pay to invest in it. Last year, you the taxpayer each contributed (on average) $35.49 to protect natural heritage.  That's (per person) about the price of a couple of movie tickets to see "Middle Earth" in all of its glory in The Hobbit.

This image shows how little is spent on protection of our natural heritage in NZ from the Where are my taxes website. Of the $18 538 we each contributed (on average) to the various functions of Govt for 2012, just $35.49 went towards protecting natural heritage. (NB:  $33.01 went towards recreation, the rest went toward capital expenditure, admin etc - total $101.01 to conservation - out of $18 538 of your taxpayer dollars).

DOC cuts -  a commentary on the commentary:

Since I've written about the issue already on various occasions, I thought instead I'd track down some of the media coverage on the issue so far for your perusal.  If you're interested in this issue, I highly recommend you read all the links.

A good commentary on the issue is found over on "Bull Dust", for my blogging colleague Colin Espiner's take on cutting conservation budgets in "The real price of DOC cuts." 

The NBR carries Bryce Edwards' collection of news articles and opinion pieces on the DOC cuts.  In it he points out that, "The Department of Conservation cuts are not quite the end of the world as we know it but, according to critics, it's not far off."  He lists the outcry from opponents and then goes on to say "After all, New Zealand's National Parks - and conservation in general - holds a special place in the public's heart."

Today's Dominion Post editorial gives the issue the once-over, and finds that although DOC shouldn't be immune from scrutiny in public sector job losses, nor should it be 'singled out for attention'.  The editorial specifically refers to a recent auditor general's report on DOC which found that the department was struggling to fulfil its responsibilities to protect our biodiversity.

The Southland Times editorial goes further, by likening the restructuring to a game of Jenga "seeing how much can be removed from a structure before it collapses".

The Director General of the Department of Conservation tried to assure the public that the decision to axe a further 140 jobs was 'not about budget cuts', but admitted that the size of the short-fall determined how many jobs had to go.  In any case, it wasn't enough, since DOC must now find another $2 million in savings in addition to the cuts.

Tom Scott put pen to paper in his way over at the Dominion Post yesterday.

There has been much talk of 'middle management' positions going, but they are not generally the much-maligned desk-bound 'suits' in Wellington. For the most part, the proposed restructure will affect the people who if not currently spending a chunk of their time in the field, will certainly be the ones directing the work of those in the field.  A necessary role - would you have all your soldiers running around on the ground without a Lieutenant to provide the direction and strategy?  The middle-management positions that the PM said there were too many of wear khaki uniforms and work alongside their communities in myriad ways.  There will be more 'rangers' now... because the job titles are proposed to change to 'ranger'.

Charging for the privilege:

So that's the update: Now for the solutions.  What do you think NZ could do to invest more in the Department of Conservation?  Many have called for international tourists to pay a fee to enter national parks (it happens all over the world in a huge range of countries), but both the Minister and the Prime Minister have said no. Would it make a difference?  People can stay in our huts for twenty or thirty bucks a night in some of our most beautiful places - many of whom would be more than happy to pay more.  Seven Sharp covered the issue on Tuesday and found that a family of four could do the Routeburn track twice for less than half the price of doing a comparative track in Tasmania.  Bhutan currently charges international tourists $US250 a day just for the privilege of being in the country. Could we do more?

The heart of the issue:

Or should we wind this back even further?  The Department of Conservation is charged with managing and protecting one third of our country's land-mass, all of our marine reserves, the pests (from wilding pines to possums), and last but by no means least, the protection of our native wildlife (2800 threatened species and counting) all on around the same budget as the Hamilton City Council.  No disrespect to the good folk of the 'tron, but shouldn't we the public make sure that DOC gets a bit more for a bit bigger job?  Isn't it our responsibility to make sure that they get funded appropriately for this?  Where is the public impetus to protect those who protect what we love about this country? These cuts were on the cards for months, where were we until now? Is this a situation of apathy rules?

The Federated Mountain Club seems to think so.  In what I thought was rather a poignant post on their Facebook page, they said:

I'm inclined to agree with the last sentence.  How much are we (not just the global financial crisis and the need for public sector cutbacks in general) to blame for this?

Do you have any ideas or solutions for how we could better resource conservation in New Zealand or is this just a financial reality of our modern world? I'd love to hear your thoughts. 

» Please feel free to email me to send me your questions, feedback, ideas or photographs for In Our Nature blog posts. You can also join the In Our Nature Facebook page.

P.S. While not exactly 'taking to the streets' about DOC cuts, the twitterati came to the party yesterday with the hashtag #docslogans - if you follow twitter, it's worth a look.