DOC spending on private island defended

MICHAEL FOX
Last updated 11:54 05/06/2014
Great Mercury Island

WILDLIFE HAVEN: Great Mercury Island

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Conservation Minister Nick Smith has defended the spending of public money to help make a private island owned by multi-millionaires Sir Michael Fay and David Richwhite pest free.

Fay and the Department of Conservation are co-funding a $1.5m pest eradication campaign on the 1872 hectare Great Mercury Island, which begins this month.

The island is open for public use and is a popular boating destination and is home to 50 species of native land snails, threatened native plants and the giant tusked weta.

Sea birds such as Pycrofts and grey-faced petrels as well as native geckos, tuatara, kaka and kakariki also call the island home.

Labour MP Ruth Dyson questioned Smith in a local government and environment committee hearing today about whether private funding was skewing DOC's conservation priorities as donors put conditions on their funding.

Dyson said Fay had provided the donation and "in return" DOC had started up their pest eradication programme on that island.

"If this was on the mainland and it was butting up to a national park it might have some other merit to it because rats don't stop at a border... it doesn't feel right that eradication of pests on a privately owned island is a priority given what the department is facing in terms of challenges," she said.

"If they bought in outside funding to assist DOC's conservation goals, good, but if they've bought in outside funding to shift the department's goals onto pest eradication on a private island - that would ever have been on the department's list of jobs."

But Smith defended the project, saying working with private funders allowed DOC to ensure more money was put into conservation projects, though it did not dictate which projects went ahead.

Native species benefitted from conservation projects no matter who owned the land.

"I don't think our native species care too much about whether its public land or private land, if there is an opportunity to make islands like Mercury pest free and that the land owner is prepared to make a... contribution I am quite comfortable about making a contribution too to achieve that conservation [aim]."

Smith said DOC "fenced off" decisions around advocacy from private partnerships and "determines its own conservation priorities".

He cited DOC's partnership with Janszoon to make Abel Tasman National Park pest and weed free.

Doing so would not have been an immediate DOC priority otherwise, but the department had realised the conservation gains to be made with the benefit of private funding.

DOC needed to be flexible to take advantage of this.

Gareth Morgan's pest eradication campaign on the Antipodes Islands was another example.

"So my view is that's quite proper."

Smith also revealed DOC was working to correct a surveying mistake on the island which had seen a reserve established in the wrong place.

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