Editorial: Predator tax and national park charges may be the way ahead for NZ
It is summer 2099-2100 in the New Zealand high country.
In Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park, overseas visitors who earlier paid entry fees are queuing in the heat for helicopter rides to view our famed crumbling mountains. If they are lucky they may see some of the country's few remaining permanent snowfields.
Meanwhile, clouds of dust rise from what is left of the once-mighty Tasman Glacier, where thousands of tonnes of gravel are being removed for highways.
The scenario may seem far-fetched, but experts at the Sustainable Summits conference at Mt Cook are warning about natural and man-made pressures on our fragile environment and predicted changes before the end of this century. Their cautions are a call for action on some of the biggest issues facing the country – sustainability, dealing with climate change and handling the growing number of tourists.
They also come against the broader backdrop of discussions around environmental protection and some visionary thinking from our political leaders about the implications of not doing enough to save, and improve, what we have got.
A decade ago, suggestions international visitors should be charged entry to national parks would not have flown. But as tourist demand has built on infrastructure – tracks, bridges, huts, public toilets, car parks – and on other services that may be needed intermittently, such as search and rescue, the idea has gained ground.
Among those now recommending charging for overseas visitors are consultant and mountaineer Dave Bamford and Mt Cook resident Mary Hobbs. Bamford once endorsed free access but has changed his mind; Hobbs says money raised from a national park entry fee should be given to the Department of Conservation to help with maintenance costs and to small towns who have to provide visitor facilities.
Charging for entry to national parks would not be new for overseas tourists – in Australia, it costs about A$10 per motor vehicle to visit some parks while Yellowstone National Park, in the United States charges vehicle owners US$30 for a seven-day pass. The US National Park Service uses that on projects such as road patching, erosion control, access for people with disabilities, wildlife monitoring and camping ground upgrades.
Kiwis should not have to pay entry here, as our national parks were set up for the people of New Zealand and are already supported by taxes.
Also suggested in the past week by the Green Party is a "taonga levy" of between $14 to $18 to be paid by arriving visitors. This would be used to fund efforts to make New Zealand predator-free by 2050 and to help build the Regional Tourism Facilities Fund.
The Government has been quick to condemn the idea, saying it would put off travellers and bring total levies for international visitors to $40. However, that is far less than levies Kiwis pay to travel to Australia or Britain.
These ideas are worth serious investigation. We welcome such lateral thinking to save our environment.