The Environmental Defence Society’s new book Vanishing Nature – facing New Zealand’s biodiversity crisis, should be read by every New Zealander concerned about our native plants and wildlife and striking natural landscapes; and particularly by Government Ministers before Budget Day on 21 May.
The book authored by Marie Brown, Theo Stephens, Raewyn Peart and Bevis Fedder is a cogent, critical analysis of New Zealand’s biodiversity crisis, some of the reasons for it, and ways to tackle it.
Our indigenous biodiversity is slipping away. Despite the laudable goals of the New Zealand Biodiversity Strategy, present efforts are insufficient to even halt this decline, much less reverse it.
As the authors note, “Our indigenous biodiversity is slipping away. Despite the laudable goals of the New Zealand Biodiversity Strategy, present efforts are insufficient to even halt this decline, much less reverse it. Rates of loss in New Zealand are such that without change, the next few decades are likely to see the loss of many iconic species (including the New Zealand sea lion and Maui’s dolphin) along with those that live in our disappearing remnants of lowland ecosystems. Without ongoing intervention with pest control, captive breeding and other techniques, a substantial swathe of already imperilled species is also likely to die out. Familiar species that we may lose include kōkako, kiwi, saddleback, black stilt, longfin eel, long-tailed bats and many lizards. It is inarguable that urgent action is needed.”
Human settlement in Aotearoa has already made 56 bird species extinct so the authors’ prediction of future loss is no overstatement. Nearly 40 % of New Zealand’s native plant species, more than 40 % of our bird species, 74 % of our freshwater fish species and 85 % of our native lizards are threatened with, or at risk of extinction.
Some of the reasons for our biodiversity crisis include: the impacts of human settlement, the introduction of rats, stoats, ferrets, possums and other predators, our wholesale conversion of indigenous habitats to farmland, markets not valuing biodiversity, New Zealand’s “ambiguous and disjointed “ legislation, the weak enforcement of that legislation, and inadequate monitoring and “incoherent” performance reporting. There is also limited public understanding of the seriousness of the crisis, in part because of the stream of good news press releases from the Department of Conservation.
The authors examine various solutions. One is to improve the funding models as current conservation funding is “paltry” relative to the task. I agree. In 2013/14 Department of Conservation (DoC) revenue was $346 million with only $163 m for natural heritage management. DoC’s current funding allows it to do pest control on only 12 per cent of the conservation estate. We don’t fund education to provide educational opportunities to only 12 per cent of children or fund health services for only 12 per cent of New Zealanders. Conservation should be no different.
Other potential initiatives to increase the investment in conservation include: an environmental consumption tax on the intensity of land use; a new environmental protection fund funded by a polluter pays approach to activities that harm biodiversity; payments to landholders for ecosystem services provided by indigenous habitat on private and Maori land, law changes, and increased legal aid funding for environmental cases in the public interest (slashed by National).
Marie Brown and her co-authors, the Environmental Defence Society and the New Zealand Law Foundation all deserve congratulations for publishing this timely survey and analysis of how much we are failing the distinctive native plants and other animals with whom we share these islands and scoping some potential solutions.
Conservation is all of our business. There has been an explosion of community interest in practical local conservation projects controlling predators and weeds. Central government has a primary responsibility for providing adequate core funding for conservation, and improving the legal, policy, and planning tools. The beautiful photograph of the ruru/morepork on the book’s cover challenges us to do much better here.
Under National, we have seen DoC’s budget slashed
Under National, we have seen DoC’s budget slashed, a halving in the number of RMA cases taken by DoC to advocate for biodiversity protection on private land, aggressive promotion of and subsidies for irrigation and intensive dairying at the expense of healthy rivers and with no parallel increase in conservation funding, environmental legal aid funding slashed and the privatisation of thousands of hectares of Crown owned grasslands and shrublands which deserved protection as conservation land.
 Brown, Marie et al (April 2015) “Vanishing Nature, facing New Zealand’s biodiversity crisis,” Environmental Defence Society and New Zealand Law Foundation at p 176.