The first responses to New Zealand's biodiversity crisis were made by Māori tribes before Europeans came here. They included dietary changes, internal migration, territorial warfare, access restrictions based on whakapapa (genealogy) or mana (power, prestige) and conservation measures. These conservation measures varied from place to place and were driven by practical resource needs rather than the abstract principle of preserving biodiversity for its own sake (O'Regan, 1994).
The measures included the use of tikanga (ritualised methods) when harvesting important plants and animals, and the use of tapu (sacred prohibitions) and rahui (temporary prohibitions) to control the areas, seasons or species harvested. Because the measures were intended to maintain harvestable supplies of particular plants and animals, they focused on species which had resource value or were spiritually safe. Lizards, for example, were generally avoided because they were believed to have strong powers, while fish, food plants and edible invertebrates were readily eaten, with some being actively transferred from areas of plenty to areas of scarcity.
Following European settlement, nature conservation was far from most people's minds. The new settlers were intent on converting 'bush' into productive European-style farmland. European birds, domestic animals and game animals were introduced. Māori protests about the loss of native fisheries and the introduction of trout were ignored, as were the deforestation protests of a small number of European conservationists. Conservation measures were few and were limited to a small number of laws protecting individual species. In fact, the first laws were designed to protect introduced species.
The Protection of Certain Animals Act 1861 was a forerunner to the establishment of acclimatisation societies. It decreed that "no Deer of any kind, Hare, Swan, Partridge, English Plover, Rook, Starling, Thrush or Blackbird" could be shot for the rest of the decade. It was followed by the Trout and Salmon Protection Act 1867 which made provision for "the preservation and propagation of Salmon and Trout in this Colony". The other side of the acclimatisation coin soon followed with the Rabbit Nuisance Act 1876, the Small Birds Nuisance Act 1882 and the Noxious Weeds Act 1900.
The first legislation to protect indigenous species was the 1864 Wild Birds Protection Act which said: "No Wild Duck, Paradise Duck, or Pigeon indigenous in the colony shall be hunted, taken, or killed except during the months of April, May, June, and July in any year." In 1875 seal hunting was restricted to a short annual season, followed in 1894 by a requirement for sealing permits. In the 1890s, legal protection was also bestowed on such unique species as the tuatara and the doomed huia. Attitudes to indigenous species changed slowly. In 1907, legal protection was given to several more native birds (e.g. the tui, kaka, paradise shelduck and oystercatcher). The Animals Protection and Game Act 1921-22 extended protection to more species (including, however, the possum). Over the years, more native birds were given full protection (e.g. the Stewart Island diving petrel, or kuaka, in 1923, and the New Zealand pigeon, or kereru, in 1941).
Eventually, the protection of native animals was consolidated in the Wildlife Act 1953, which conferred protection on most native vertebrates (with some exceptions for sport hunting and pest control). In 1980, several dozen invertebrates were added to the list and in 1996 all of our lizards became protected species. Under these laws, most of the larger native land animals received some protection from harvesting, but were not protected from habitat decline and the encroachment of pests and weeds.
In 1908, the Fisheries Act empowered Ministers to use regulations if necessary to restrict the harvest of marine and freshwater species. These regulatory powers were later used to further limit seal hunting and to control the harvesting of toheroa, oysters, whitebait and some other fisheries. The original Fisheries Act and regulations have since been superseded by several new Acts, culminating in the Fisheries Act 1996 with its better safeguards for aquatic ecosystems and non-target species. Seals are now covered by separate marine mammal legislation. Non-commercial indigenous freshwater fish are managed under the Conservation Act 1987.
It was not until 1934 that protection measures were introduced for native plants outside of reserves and national parks. The Native Plants Protection Act makes it illegal to take most native plants without landowner consent. This Act is still in operation but provides little real protection for native plants.
Habitat protection was almost non-existent last century, except for a few small areas of lowland forest, which became scenic reserves, and extensive areas of high mountain forest, which were protected for flood control purposes. In 1887, Te Heuheu IV, paramount chief of the Tuwharetoa people of the central North Island, gifted their sacred mountains and surrounding land to the Government to protect them from encroaching farmers. Much of this land was tussock grassland which had been converted from forest by Māori fires centuries earlier. The land and its mountains, Ruapehu, Ngauruhoe and Tongariro, became New Zealand's first national park, the Tongariro National Park.
Over the next century, a dozen more national parks were established and about 4,000 smaller reserves, but only a few of these had biodiversity as a central consideration. Most were preserved for their scenery. A Scenery Preservation Commission was established in 1904, but provided little protection for the lowland forests, wetlands, dunelands, South Island tussock lands or river ecosystems. The concept of protecting marine areas was not recognised until the late 1960s. As a result of lobbying by marine scientists, the Marine Reserves Act was passed in 1971 and the first marine reserve was established in 1975.
Attitudes to biodiversity still vary widely in New Zealand. To some people, indigenous species are fellow beings with intrinsic value and a fundamental right to exist. To others they are resources whose value depends on their economic, recreational or cultural usefulness. These philosophical differences have an important bearing on how conservation priorities are set, which species and ecosystems are protected, and the degree of protection given. Despite the different perspectives, however, more than three-quarters of those surveyed in a 1992 Heylen poll believed that protecting endangered species is a very important issue, whether for ethical, economic or cultural reasons (Department of Conservation, 1993). This general sentiment is reflected in our key conservation laws.
The Government has listed the protection of indigenous habitats and biological diversity as one of its 11 most important environmental issues (Ministry for the Environment, 1995). To help it achieve its objective in this area, and to lay the groundwork for a more constructive and coordinated approach to sustaining biodiversity, the Government is developing the New Zealand Biodiversity Strategy (see Box 9.21).
Under the global Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), which was signed at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, New Zealand joined with many other governments in agreeing to a range of measures for the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity. In Article 6 of the Convention they agreed to develop national strategies, plans or programmes and to integrate these into relevant sectoral (social and economic) plans, programmes and policies.
The New Zealand Biodiversity Strategy is now being developed by the Department of Conservation and the Ministry for the Environment. An outline strategy document based on discussions with a range of interested parties is expected to be released in mid 1997. The document will outline various issues affecting the management of biodiversity and potential responses to these issues. It will invite submissions from the public. The submissions will be reviewed and the New Zealand Biodiversity Strategy will then be released. Some of the issues likely to come within the scope of the Strategy include:
The Biodiversity Strategy will not be just a statement of good intentions. It will be action-oriented with a focus on how best to sustain our biodiversity. It will help to coordinate the different biodiversity initiatives up and down the country and ensure they are better integrated.
The Conservation Act 1987, and amendments to it, have established the Department of Conservation, the New Zealand Conservation Authority and Boards, and the New Zealand and Regional Fish and Game Councils with the aim of promoting the conservation of natural and historic resources. It defines conservation as the preservation and protection of natural and historic resources (which include plants and animals of all kinds as well as fungi, algae and bacteria) for the purpose of maintaining their intrinsic values, providing for their appreciation and recreational enjoyment by the public, and safeguarding the options of future generations.
The Wildlife Act 1953 provides for the protection of wildlife, except for certain species named in Schedules to the Act, and also provides for the control of wildlife. It allows game(birds) to be hunted or killed, subject to restrictions. Recent amendments to this Act include the protection of several marine groups, namely black corals (Antipatharia), red corals (Stylasterids) and spotted black groper (Epinephalus daemelii).
The Reserves Act 1977 allows the classification of different types of public reserves. The Act contains provisions for their acquisition, control, management, maintenance, preservation, development and use.
The Marine Reserves Act 1971 makes the Department of Conservation responsible for the management and protection of marine reserves. Management functions include marking marine reserve boundaries, law enforcement, the issuing of permits for scientific studies, and monitoring environmental changes. The legislation has scientific study and preservation of marine life as its primary focus and is the key legislation for protection of marine biodiversity.
The Marine Mammals Protection Act 1978, administered by the Department of Conservation, provides for the conservation, protection and management of marine mammals. Under the Act, a permit is required for anyone to 'take' a marine mammal. (The definition of 'take' includes actions that harm, harass, injure, and attract.) The Act does not prevent the accidental (or incidental) catching of marine mammals (bycatch) during fishing operations.
The National Parks Act 1980 provides for the establishment, administration, control and management of national parks. National parks comprise land with scenery of such distinctive quality, ecological systems or natural features so beautiful, unique or scientifically important that their preservation is in the national interest. National parks are preserved for their intrinsic worth and for the benefit, use and enjoyment of the public.
The Resource Management Act 1991, which sets out the environmental management responsibilities of local authorities, aims to promote the sustainable management of natural and physical resources (which are defined as including all forms of plants and animals). The authorities must provide for "matters of national importance" which include, among other things, the protection of areas of significant indigenous vegetation, significant habitats of indigenous fauna, and wetlands.
They are also required, among other things, to have particular regard for any finite characteristics of natural and physical resources, the protection of trout and salmon habitat, and, most significantly, the intrinsic values of ecosystems, which are defined as those aspects and parts of an ecosystem "which have value in their own right", including (a) their biological and genetic diversity; and (b) the essential characteristics that determine the integrity, form, functioning and resilience of the ecosystem.
The Environment Act 1986, which reformed the Commission for the Environment and established the Ministry for the Environment, aims to ensure that, in the management of natural and physical resources (which are defined to include, among other things, all forms of flora and fauna), full and balanced account is taken of, among other things, their sustainability, the intrinsic values of ecosystems (which are defined as systems of interacting organisms within their natural environment) and the needs of future generations.
The 1993 amendment to the Forests Act 1949 requires that the milling of indigenous timber from most privately owned indigenous forests in New Zealandbe subject to a sustainable forest management regime that maintains the forest's ability to provide products and amenities in perpetuity while also retaining its natural values.
The Fisheries Act 1996 aims to use fisheries resources while "ensuring sustainability". This is defined as both maintaining their potential to meet the needs of future generations, and avoiding, remedying or mitigating any adverse effects of fishing on the aquatic environment. In pursuing these objectives, the Act requires that the following environmental principles be taken into account: (a) associated or dependent species should be maintained above a level that ensures their long-term viability; (b) biological diversity of the aquatic environment should be maintained; (c) habitat of particular significance for fisheries management should be protected. In addition, the Act's information principles require that decisions be based on the best possible information, be cautious when information is uncertain, unreliable or inadequate, and not be deferred because of inadequate information.
Besides these main laws, a range of more specific laws operate to promote conservation at the national and local levels. Some of these have already been mentioned. They include the Native Plants Protection Act 1934; the Marine Reserves Act 1971; the Wild Animal Control Act 1977; the Queen Elizabeth II National Trust Act 1977; the Marine Mammal Protection Act 1978; the National Parks Act 1980; the Trade in Endangered Species Act 1989; the Local Government Amendment Act 1989; the Māori Fisheries Act 1989; the Treaty of Waitangi (Fisheries Claim) Settlement Act 1992; the Biosecurity Act 1993; and the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act 1996. Some of these are discussed below or in earlier chapters.
Rules in regional and district plans have the status of law under the Resource Management Act as do Heritage Protection Orders and Water Conservation Orders issued by central Government under that Act. A range of funding mechanisms also exist to purchase land for conservation purposes or to pay landowners for reserving land through legally binding protection covenants.
The need to protect biodiversity is not just a national or local concern. It has also become an international obligation. Because New Zealand's endemic species are found nowhere else on Earth, their loss is a world loss. Conversely, because New Zealanders are part of the global community, the extinction of any overseas species is also our loss. New Zealand is therefore an active member of the international conservation network and a party to many international agreements related to biodiversity.
Three of the most significant biodiversity conventions are: the Convention on Biological Diversity; the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES); and the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling.
Of these, the Convention on Biological Diversity is the most all-embracing. It was opened for signing at the United Nations Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro on 5 June 1992 and came into force on 29 December 1993. The Convention spells out principles and obligations for the conservation, sustainable use and fair and equitable exploitation of other species. It notes that the fundamental requirement for maintaining biological diversity is the in-situ conservation of ecosystems and natural habitats and the maintenance and recovery of viable populations of species in their natural surroundings. The Convention also notes that lack of full scientific certainty should not be used as a reason for postponing measures that may avoid or minimize threats to biodiversity.
Although the Convention does not prescribe any particular methods for conserving biological diversity, it does require member countries to develop national biodiversity strategies and to integrate these with other forms of planning. It also requires countries to monitor their biodiversity, establish a system of protected areas, introduce procedures to assess, and avoid or minimise the impact on biodiversity of proposed projects, and promote public education and awareness. Where compatible with conservation or sustainable use requirements, Convention members are also to encourage customary use of biodiversity in accordance with traditional practices and facilitate access for other resource users.
The Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) aims to limit the threat posed by trade through a system of import and export controls. The Convention came into force on 1 July 1975, but New Zealand only ratified it in 1989 when the Trade in Endangered Species Act was passed. Under the Act, species are listed in three categories: endangered; threatened; and exploited. Endangered species may only be traded when accompanied by an export permit, issued by the country of origin, and an import permit, issued by the country of import. Threatened species may only be traded if accompanied by an export permit from their country of origin stating that the transaction is not harmful to the species. The CITES appendices are periodically revised and member countries are required to amend their import and export controls accordingly. Of prime concern are species targeted by international collectors (such as parrots, rare reptiles, corals, turtle shells, elephant ivory, rare animal skins) and those targeted by the Asian medicaments industry (such as tigers, bears and rhinoceroses).
The International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling was signed in 1946 and established the International Whaling Commission (IWC). New Zealand was an IWC member until our whaling industry ceased in the 1960s. In 1978, however, in response to growing public pressure for an end to whaling worldwide, New Zealand rejoined the Commission to support other non-whaling countries in their bid for a global ban on commercial whaling.
New Zealand has taken a consistently conservationist and humanitarian position at the IWC, reflecting most New Zealanders' opposition to both the ecological destructiveness of whaling and its cruelty. In 1986, the IWC imposed a moratorium on whaling, with exceptions for 'traditional' and 'scientific' whaling. In 1994, the IWC voted to establish a southern ocean whale sanctuary surrounding the South Pole. Together with the existing Indian Ocean sanctuary, this means that almost one-third of the world's oceans will be off-limits to whalers if the moratorium were ever lifted.
Other significant biodiversity conventions to which New Zealand is a party are: the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance Especially as Waterfowl Habitats (Ramsar Convention) (see Chapter 7 for discussion); the Convention on the Conservation of Nature in the South Pacific (Apia Convention); the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (Bonn Convention); the Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources; the Convention on the Prohibition of Fishing with Long Drift Nets in the South Pacific (Wellington Convention); and the Convention for the Conservation of Southern Bluefin Tuna. New Zealand is also participating in United Nations-sponsored talks to regulate the fishing of migratory fish stocks in open seas.
Finally, Chapter 17 of the Rio Summit's Agenda 21 document (see Chapter 7) calls on nations to work towards protecting marine ecosystems within their Economic Exclusion Zones by identifying ecosystems with high levels of productivity and biodiversity or with critical habitat areas and, where necessary, limiting use in these areas through, among other things, the designation of protected areas.
A large number of organisations and individuals are involved in efforts to maintain New Zealand's biological diversity. They include Government departments, other statutory agencies and a wide range of voluntary organisations, professional groups and biodiversity resource users.
The Department of Conservation is the main Government agency responsible for protecting and sustaining biodiversity. Established in 1987 under the Conservation Act, it undertakes the day-to-day management of New Zealand's protected areas and unallocated public lands. In addition to advising the Government and other agencies on conservation and biodiversity matters, the Department advocates, promotes and encourages the conservation of all natural and historical resources. It can voice its opinions on any issues of natural resource management (including statutory advocacy through the Resource Management Act, commenting on marine fisheries, indigenous forestry management, freshwater fish habitats etc.).
The Department consists of a Wellington-based head office, 3 regional offices (at Hamilton, Wellington and Christchurch ) and 14 conservancy offices distributed throughout the country. Its main functions include:
The Department also has a consultative voice in the management of marine fisheries and in sustainable forest management plans for indigenous timber production. Apart from sustaining biodiversity, the Department is also responsible for providing recreational, tourist and visitor services on conservation land, a role which consumes more than a third of the Department's $127 million annual budget (Department of Conservation, 1995).
Several other statutory organisations also play important roles in New Zealand's conservation network. Among these are the New Zealand Conservation Authority and its 17 Regional Conservation Boards which act as bridges between the Department of Conservation and the public. The Authority and boards are housed within the Department and serviced by its staff but are quite independent in their advice and functions.
Its members are drawn from organisations representing Māori interests, the tourism sector, recreational users of conservation land and environmentalists.
Their role is to ensure that the Department manages its lands in accordance with public wishes, subject to the Conservation Act's requirement that protected species and indigenous habitats and other sites be maintained. The Authority produces discussion documents and invites public feedback on contentious issues, such as the cultural harvesting of indigenous species, and they provide independent advice to both the Department and the Minister on conservation issues of national importance. Authority approval is also required before the Department can implement its policies and plans for national parks or its conservation management strategies and plans.
The Forest Heritage Fund and Nga Whenua Rahui are also independent of the Department of Conservation, though they are housed within it and serviced by Department staff. These special-purpose committees were set up in 1990 to pay for the protection of indigenous forests of high conservation value on private land either through legally binding protection covenants or direct purchase. Each year these funds are allocated a total of $6.8 million for this purpose, with the Forest Heritage Fund receiving $4.5 million and Nga Whenua Rahui $2.3 million. About 130,000 hectares were protected or earmarked for protection by mid-1996.
Another statutory organisation which has the role of funding voluntary protection of 'open spaces' on private land is the Queen Elizabeth II National Trust, which was established under its own Act in 1977. Nearly 100,000 hectares of forest, wetland and other 'open spaces' were protected or earmarked for protection by mid-1996. The Trust receives funding from Government grants, the Forest Heritage Fund and public donations. The Conservation Department also has a small, self-generated fund for buying land that has high biodiversity. This is financed from the sale of less important conservation land and has amounted to about $1.5 million a year.
The New Zealand Fish and Game Council and its 12 Regional Fish and Game Councils are modern descendants of the old acclimatisation societies which brought so many pest species into New Zealand. Today these organisations are charged with managing, maintaining and enhancing populations of introduced sports fish (e.g. trout and salmon) and native and introduced game birds (e.g. ducks, geese, pheasants). As some of the sports fish have negative impacts on native fish, and some of the game birds are declining indigenous species (e.g. grey and shoveler ducks), the game councils' activities have important implications for biodiversity. The councils and the Department of Conservation are required to coordinate their management plans wherever sports fish and game birds are involved.
The Ministry of Fisheries (formerly a part of the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries) is responsible for the management of marine and commercial freshwater fisheries. Under the Fisheries Act, the Minister is required to sustain not only the target species of a fishery, but also any associated or dependent species, the biological diversity of the marine environment, and any habitat of particular significance to fisheries.
The Ministry provides the expert advice for this, drawing on data from the fisheries scientists at the Crown Research Institute, NIWA, and on consultations with fishing companies, Māori interests, recreational fishers, environmental groups and Government agencies such as the Department of Conservation and the Ministry of Māori Affairs (Te Puni Kokiri).
The regional and unitary councils and district councils enforce resource management policies and plans in consultation with the community and Māori interests. In doing this, they are required, among other things, to sustain ecosystems and have regard for their intrinsic values and for the protection of significant habitat of indigenous species as well as the habitat of trout and salmon.
The Ministry for the Environment has an oversight role in the planning and policy-making process and also furnishes advice to the Government and the councils on a range of environmental issues, including some relating to biodiversity.
The Ministry of Forestry has an Indigenous Forestry Unit whose role is to ensure that sustainable management permits and plans for the milling of native timber follow the requirements of Part III of the Forests Act 1949, which was amended in 1993 to ensure that the forest's natural values are retained while the forest is being harvested.
Several Crown Research Institutes, particularly Landcare Research and NIWA, maintain biodiversity and pest databases and undertake research on species and ecosystems.
Conservation activities, policies or research are also pursued by a number of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) such as ECO, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, the Maruia Society, the New Zealand Ecological Society, the Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society and the Worldwide Fund for Nature (NZ). Some are special-purpose organisations, such as the Botanical Society of New Zealand, Ducks Unlimited, the Federated Mountain Clubs, the Native Forests Restoration Trust, the Ornithological Society of New Zealand, Project Jonah, the Rainforest Coalition and the Yellow Eyed Penguin Trust. Groups such as these have been instrumental in bringing conservation issues to the attention of national and local government, lobbying for effective solutions and initiating practical biodiversity conservation projects.
Several companies have also become involved in conservation activities by making financial contributions to conservation projects. Their sponsorships are managed through partnerships with the Department of Conservation, the Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society and the New Zealand Conservation Authority under the Threatened Species Trust Programme. The Bank of New Zealand contributes to the Kiwi Recovery Programme; Comalco provides funds to help save the kakapo; State Insurance helps support the kokako; Flightcentre New Zealand is sponsoring the Takahe Recovery Programme; and Ace Dynaco Magicdoors has pledged $30,000 to saving threatened native frogs.
Other corporate conservation sponsors who work in conjunction with the Department of Conservation are Hannahs (walkways), Corbans Wines (wetlands), Carter Holt Harvey (Project Crimsonpohutukawa planting), Westpac (Project Crimson and other tree projects), Software Education (various bird support projects) and McDonald's (tree planting programme). Some companies support conservation by donating to voluntary organisations or conservation trusts. Mainland Cheese, for example, supports the Yellow-eyed Penguin Trust, a private organisation which purchases coastal sites for penguin habitat. Besides these big companies whose conservation sponsorship is widely known, many small firms and businesses support conservation projects at the local level.
Over the years, a significant number of landowners have chosen to retain small areas of indigenous forest or wetland on their properties. These have not been formal arrangements sealed by covenants but simply personal decisions to hold on to patches of "bush" and wetland for aesthetic or conservation reasons, or because the land owners have no other use for the land. Often the preserved forest is in gullies and alongside streams. Such strips are important refuges for indigenous biodiversity, but unfortunately many are too small or isolated to sustain viable populations of rare or threatened species for very long. However, the forest remnants can provide temporary footholds, and could provide more permanent habitat if they were modestly expanded and, where possible, connected up.
Māori tribes or iwi have a strong interest in the management of activities which affect our biodiversity, both as traditional users of some species and as significant land owners and commercial fishers. Māori interests own 40 percent of the commercial fishing quota and a considerable amount of biodiversity habitat is on Māori land (i.e. more than half a million hectares of native forest). Conversely, many species traditionally harvested by Māori communities are now protected by law, with some species restricted to conservation land or subject to harvesting prohibitions or restrictions.
Most of the claims before the Treaty of Waitangi Tribunal include areas of conservation land. Often these areas include mahinga kai (traditional food-gathering areas), waahi tapu (sacred sites), and urupa (burial sites). One claim (Wai-262), which was submitted in 1991 and was still being considered in 1996, seeks iwi control of all New Zealand's biodiversity; its use, study, conservation, and sale (Murray et al., 1991).
Māori interest in biodiversity and resource management is recognised in the Conservation Act 1987 and the Resource Management Act 1991, which require resource managers to consult with Māori. Māori interests and claims have also been recognised in the Māori Fisheries Act 1989 and the Treaty of Waitangi (Fisheries Claims) Settlement Act 1992. In some areas the Minister of Fisheries has established taiapure or traditional fishery zones managed by the local Māori runanga. Separate legislation to provide for customary Māori fisheries is currently being drafted.
In the 8 years from 1987/88 and 1994/95 the Crown contribution to the Department of Conservation's budget was reduced by about 20 percent in real terms and staff numbers fell from a peak of 2,300 in March 1988 to approximately 1,500 full-time equivalent positions (Department of Conservation, 1993). Current DOC staffing is approximately 1,300 full-time equivalent positions. The Department had a total budget of $123 million in 1994/95, of which almost $95 million came from the Crown and $28 million came from other sources.
In 1995/96, the Department received a $5 million increase in Government funding, most of which was earmarked for possum control and threatened species work. This boosted the Department's budget for threatened species and island habitat programmes from nearly $16 million in 1994/95 to nearly $19 million in 1995/96 (Department of Conservation, 1995). On 20 May 1996, the Government announced a further increase of $68.4 million in funding for the Department of Conservation to be spread over the following three years.
The new financial allocation came as part of the Government's Budget strategy in what has been called a 'Green Package.' The increase will take the Department's total funding to $181 million a year by 1998/99. Of the new funding, $20 million will be used to combat pests and weeds, $18 million will go toward the protection of threatened species, and $6.25 million will be allocated to research to find new and cost-effective ways of controlling possums.
The combination of laws, statutory organisations and interest groups has produced a wide range of responses to the main pressures on our biodiversity. Most of these responses have focused on reducing human predation but, increasingly, measures are being developed to deal more effectively with the pressures of habitat decline and pests and weeds.
The Conservation Act 1987 and other Acts covering reserves and national parks prohibit the taking of indigenous species on protected land without the Department of Conservation's consent. Several other laws prohibit or regulate the taking of indigenous plants and animals anywhere in New Zealand.
The Native Plants Protection Act 1934 is generally acknowledged to provide little real protection for native plants. It appears to have been written to limit the collection by gardeners of small herbaceous plants (Bellingham, 1993b). Fines are very small (not exceeding $40 for the third offence) and in the only test case a pohutukawa tree was found not to be a 'plant' under the Act. The Act prohibits the taking of significant quantities of most native plants without landowner permission. On public land, that permission must come from Government or local authorities.
Exceptions are made for medicinal, research or horticultural plant uses and for the following plant taxa: hutiwai or piripiri ( Acaena spp.), tutu (Coriaria spp.), tauhinu ( Cassinia spp.), fireweed (Erechtitoid spp.), waterfern (Histiopteris incisa), kanuka (Kunzea ericoides), manuka (Leptospermum scoparium), hard fern (Paesia scaberula), tauhinu (Pomaderris phylicifolia), bracken (Pteridium esculentum), nettles (Urtica spp.), thallose liverworts ( Marchantia spp.) and all mosses. The Act also does not apply to lichens, other fungi or algae.
The Wildlife Act 1953 gives varying levels of protection to native and introduced animals which live in a wild state in New Zealand.
The definition of 'animal' is legal rather than scientific. It includes most wild mammals (but not rabbits, hares or marine mammals), all wild birds, all reptiles and native frogs, but very few fish and invertebrates. The protected invertebrates include the giant wetas, all the large land snails, some weevils and other beetles, a grasshopper and the cave spider.
The Act was recently amended to include some marine species (e.g. black and red corals, and black spotted groper) that were formerly protected under fisheries regulations, and to extend its coverage out to the 200 mile limit of the Exclusive Economic Zone. Most fish, however, are covered separately by the Conservation Act 1987 (in the case of freshwater native and sports fish) and the Fisheries Acts 1996 (in the case of commercially harvested freshwater fish and all marine fish). The vast majority of invertebrates are also excluded from the Act's definition of animal. Most of the species covered by the Act are totally protected from being killed, moved, liberated, held or disturbed. Several species, however, are in the following special protection categories:
Game birds may be hunted in season, but are protected at other times. They include the native grey duck, shoveller and paradise ducks and pukeko, as well as a number of introduced species.
Partially protected species may be killed as pests by landowners, but are otherwise protected. They include the southern skua, white-eye, harrier hawk, black shag and little owl.
Publicly notifiable species may be killed subject to conditions set by the Minister of Conservation in a Gazette notice. They include the sooty shearwater and grey-faced petrel (which may be killed by Māori customary hunters), peafowl, little shag and pied shag. They also include (in the Chatham Islands only) grey ducks, pukeko and South Island wekas, plus introduced black swans and mallard ducks, and (on islands in Foveaux Strait and off Stewart Island) the Stewart Island weka.
Unprotected species may be killed at any time. They include introduced mammals (cat, dog, cattle, sheep, horse, weasel, stoat, ferret, polecat, rat, mouse, hedgehog), birds (black-backed gull, blackbird, red-vented bulbul, cirl bunting, Cape Barren goose, Malay dove, feral goose, chaffinch, goldfinch, greenfinch, guinea-fowl, kookaburra, magpie, mynah, budgerigar, eastern rosella, sulphur-crested cockatoo, rock pigeon, redpoll, skylark, hedge sparrow, house sparrow, starling, thrush, turkey, yellowhammer) and frogs (green frog and whistling frog).
The Wildlife Act also prohibits the export of any bat, bird (other than farmed fowl, duck, turkey or pheasant), reptile, amphibian, Paryphanta land snail, or any parts thereof, without the consent of the Director-General of Conservation.
The Fisheries Act 1996 requires all commercial fishing to be authorised by a fishing permit. It empowers the Minister of Fisheries to impose sustainability measures on any fishery by setting limits on catches (annual quotas, daily bag limits), minimum sizes, prohibited areas, fishing methods and seasons. More than 50 fish and invertebrate species are currently managed this way, most of them through the Quota Management System (QMS). About 120 more species will eventually be added to the QMS, bringing about 15 percent of our marine fish species under quota management.
The Minister may also impose a three-month moratorium on any fishery if the stock, associated species, or environment are being depleted by fishing activity. However, the Minister can no longer impose absolute protection through fisheries regulations. A small number of marine species which were protected in this way are now protected under an amendment to the Wildlife Act 1953.
The Fisheries Act also sets out a process for dealing with bycatch, or 'fishing related mortality' where it affects any of the species covered by the Wildlife Act 1953 or the Marine Mammals Protection Act 1978. Both of these Acts were amended to allow the Minister of Conservation to produce Population Management Plans which establish allowable bycatch limits for protected species. The Fisheries Minister is required to manage the fishery in accordance with these plans, or, in the absence of a plan, to consult with the Minister of Conservation on measures to be taken.
The Marine Mammals Protection Act 1978 combines conservation and animal welfare objectives by prohibiting people from injuring, killing or molesting marine mammals around New Zealand's coasts and throughout the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). The Minister is also empowered to establish marine mammal sanctuaries in which fishing or other disturbances to marine mammals can be restricted or prohibited. At present, two such sanctuaries exist, around Banks Peninsula and the Auckland Islands. The Act allows the accidental killing of marine mammals in fishing nets but empowers the Minister of Conservation to impose limits on this through Population Management Plans.
The Trade in Endangered Species Act 1989 and the Trade in Endangered Species Order 1991 fulfil New Zealand's obligations under the Convention on Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). The CITES list is periodically revised and includes the following New Zealand species: Campbell and Auckland Island teals, brown teal, parakeets (Forbes', Antipodes Island, orange-fronted, yellow-crowned and red-crowned), kakapo, kaka, kea, falcon, Australasian harrier, buff weka, tuatara, all Paryphanta snails, black coral, Cyathea and Dicksonia tree ferns, and all orchids. It is illegal to export these species or to import other CITES-listed plants, animals or body parts without a country of origin permit. Fines range up to $100,000 for an individual and $200,000 for a corporation.
New Zealand has a more liberal interpretation of export permits than some other CITES members, such as Australia. Since 1988, export permits for both native and imported species have only been withheld where it can be shown that the species have been illegally imported, captured or killed (Ansley, 1995). Imports are closely policed, however, with the Department of Conservation, the Customs Department and the Ministry of Agriculture jointly operating the National Flora and Fauna Investigations Unit (NFFIU). More than 6,000 illegally imported CITES-listed specimens are apprehended each year.
The responses to habitat decline occur at two levels: legal protection, which is effectively protection from encroachment by people; and ecological protection, which is protection from introduced species and the effects of previous environmental destruction. The main legal protection measures have already been described in chapters 4 and 5. In brief, nearly 8 million hectares of land and about 1 million hectares of sea have been set aside in parks, reserves, or other protected areas, and are administered by the Department of Conservation (see Tables 9.37 and 9.38).
Despite their size, however, these protected areas are not representative of the habitats where much of our indigenous biodiversity is found. The bulk of the protected land is in the mountains, and most of the protected marine area is around the Kermadec Islands and in marine mammal sanctuaries, leaving barely 15,000 hectares of protected marine habitat in our coastal waters (see Figure 9.8). While the Kermadec Marine Reserve boosts the protected portion of our marine environment to nearly 7 percent of the territorial sea (i.e. waters within 12 nautical miles of the coast), the remaining marine reserves cover less than 2 percent of our coastal mainland waters (i.e. waters within a kilometre of the coast). All marine protected areas combined cover barely a fraction of 1 percent of our Exclusive Economic Zone. In fact, New Zealand's parks and reserves have made a surprisingly small contribution to species conservation. Only a few reserves were set aside to protect native species. They include the island sanctuaries of Little Barrier, Kapiti and the subantarctic islands, a few mainland sanctuaries, such as Waipoua Forest, and a scattering of small scientific reserves.
In most places, protected areas were chosen more because they were available and not wanted for anything else than because they had high biodiversity value (Towns and Williams, 1993). Almost all the national parks were established for their landscape features. Some were amalgamations of scenic reserves which were developed for aesthetic reasons and to service a tourist industry. Forested areas were not routinely set aside for their scientific value until the Forests Act was amended in 1976. As a result, the lowland forests, which made up about 50 percent of the original forest area, and supported a wider variety of species than the mountain forests, now comprise only about 16 percent of the protected forest area, and less than 7 percent of the original lowland forest area.
The Department of Conservation is attempting to improve the representativeness of our protected areas. Through the Protected Natural Areas Programme (PNAP) it is identifying under-represented habitats, many of which are on private land in lowland areas or on high-country leasehold land. Legal protection for these is achieved in various ways (e.g. through local authority plans, covenants and other contractual arrangements with landowners, land purchases, leases and exchanges). The Department can also take action under the statutory advocacy functions provided by Section 6 of the Conservation Act and through the processes contained in the Resource Management Act 1991.
An increasing amount of habitat protection is being achieved on private land through the Forest Heritage Fund, Nga Whenua Rahui, the Queen Elizabeth II National Trust, and private organisations such as Ducks Unlimited, the Native Forests Restoration Trust and the Yellow-eyed Penguin Trust. The Department is also considering proposals for about 24 new marine reserves (see Figure 9.9) and has begun a process similar to that followed by the Protected Natural Areas Programme (PNAP) for the nearshore marine area, to ensure that protected marine areas are representative. The Department aims to establish a network of marine reserves that will include key ecological communities in each biogeographic region.
Even with legal protection, however, most of our terrestrial and freshwater habitats are in ecological decline as a result of previous or surrounding land use (e.g. forestry, agriculture) and the impacts of introduced pests and weeds. Legal protection, therefore, has to be accompanied by ecological protection (i.e. controlling pests and enhancing native habitat) in many cases.
|Protected areas||North Island||South Island|
|13 National Parks (Total area approximately 2.8 million hectares)||Tongariro||Abel Tasman|
|19 Forest Parks (Total area approximately 1.4 million hectares)||Northland||Mount Richmond|
|4000 Reserves (approximately)||Dispersed throughout New Zealand|
|2 Marine Parks||Mimiwhangata (near Whangarei)|
|Tauharanui (near Auckland)|
|1 Marine Protected Area||Sugar Loaf Islands (near New Plymouth)|
|13 Marine Reserves||Kermadec Islands||Long Bay-Okura|
|Cape Rodney-Okakari Point||Kapiti|
|Poor Knights Islands||Long Island - Kokomohua|
|Whanganui-A-Hei||Westhaven Te Tai Tapu|
|Tuhua/Mayor Island||Tonga Island (Abel Tasman National Park)|
|Motu Manawa-Pollen Island||Piopiotahi|
|Te Awaatu Channel|
|(The Gut, Doubtful Sound, Fiordland)|
|2 Marine Mammal Sanctuaries||Banks Peninsula (for Hector's Dolphin)|
|Auckland Islands (for New Zealand Sea Lion)|
|2 World Heritage Natural Sites||Te Wahipounamu (south-west New Zealand)|
|Tongariro National Park|
|1 World Heritage Cultural Site||Tongariro National Park|
Source: Department of Conservation
About 30 percent of New Zealand’s total land area is administered by the Department of Conservation. These areas are predominantly situated in mountainous areas. A large proportion of land under the DoC estate is on the West Coast of the South Island.
Source: Department of Conservation
|Protected Area Categories||IUCN Category1||Area (hectares)|
|Public land subject to the National Parks Act 1980||2,425,884|
|Public land subject to the Conservation Act 1987||4,668,440|
|Public Land subject to the Reserves Act 1977||809,570|
|Public land subject to the Wildlife Act 1953||10,821|
|Private land subject to the Conservation Act 1987 and the Reserves Act 1977||61,760|
|reserved under conservation covenants or private agreements||IV||61,7604|
|Total land conservation area||7,976,475|
|Protected Area Categories||IUCN Category1||Area (hectares)|
|Public land subject to the National Parks Act 1980||2,425,884|
|Marine reserves subject to the Marine Reserves Act 1971||Ia||760,513|
|Marine mammal sanctuaries subject to the Marine Mammal Protection Act 1978||Ia||335,111|
|Marine parks subject to the Fisheries Act 1983 and the Harbours Act 1950||Ia||2,3505|
|Marine protected area subject to the Sugar Loaf Islands Marine Protected Area Act 1991||Ia||8006|
|Total marine conservation area||1,098,774|
1 As defined by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources.
2 The total area figure for 'conservation parks' also includes many ecological and sanctuary areas, as well as two wilderness areas. The 'double counts' are excluded from the net total area.
3 The total areas figure for 'national reserves' also includes units of nature, scenic and historic reserves. These 'double counts' are excluded from the net total area.
4 Further areas of private land, totalling at least 70,000 hectares, were committed for protection as of mid-1996, but not yet gazetted.
5 The lead administrative agency is the Ministry of Fisheries which shares responsibilities with the Department of Conservation (at Mimiwhangata) and the Auckland Regional Council (at Tauharanui).
6 Fisheries matters within this reserve are administered by the Ministry of Fisheries.
Formal marine reserve applications:
Marine reserve investigation
Other marine protected areas:
Source: Department of Conservation
New Zealand's oldest marine reserve is the 518-hectare Cape Rodney-Okakari Point Marine Reserve at Leigh north of Auckland which extends about 800 metres out from the shoreline for a length of some 7 kilometres. Since 1975 it has offered full protection to all the species within its boundaries, including much sought-after species such as snapper and rock lobster. Surveys of the reserve's rock lobsters found that, while commercially-harvested populations elsewhere were declining, those at the Leigh reserve and also the Tawharanui Marine Park further south, were becoming denser and their adult lobsters were reaching larger sizes (Ayling, 1978; MacDiarmid, 1991).
In the mid-1980s, as rock lobsters became rarer everywhere else, fishing boats began targeting the boundaries of the reserve and marine park. From 1990, the reserve's male lobsters, but not its females, went into a steep decline. Investigations found that the male lobsters were being caught outside the reserve area during their summer "vacations" (MacDiarmid, 1991; Kelly, 1997 in press). The lobsters like to holiday at deep offshore reef patches up to two kilometres from their dens where they forage on shellfish on the sandy sea floor. Males are caught much more than females because they spend more time out of the reserve. In any case, egg-bearing females that are caught must be thrown back.
The irony is that the reserve which was designed to protect the lobsters from commercial pressures has actually benefited the local lobster fishery. The spillover of adult males from the protected areas makes up a significant part of the local commercial catch. Catch rates on the reserve boundaries are substantially higher than in other areas where the lobsters and their nursery environments have been over-exploited. While this one small reserve makes an insignificant contribution to the national rock lobster catch, it shows that reserves can have commercial as well as environmental benefits. However, for marine reserves to play a more significant role in the nation's rock lobster fishery, there would need to be many more of them than there are at present (MacDiarmid, 1991).
The Department undertakes about 70 ecosystem restoration programmes each year, ranging from pingao planting in sand dunes to artificial restoration of water tables in drained wetlands (e.g. Whangamarino wetland). This sort of work can require extensive maintenance. In other cases, restoration may involve intensive pest and weed control or nothing more complex than the erection of a fence to keep stock out.
One of the most successful mainland restorations is at Mapara wildlife management reserve, 35 km south of Te Kuiti in the North Island, where a comprehensive programme controlled rats and possums. The nesting success rate for native birds rose from less than 30 percent to nearly 60 percent, with kokako, New Zealand falcons, fernbirds and native pigeons all showing population increases. Similarly, at Kaharoa, near Rotorua, three years of intensive possum and rat control raised the kokako population from 7 to 13 pairs and lifted the rate of breeding success from 14 percent to 85 percent.
Only a handful of islands in the world are still relatively free of human influence and introduced animals. New Zealand has some of these among the 330 islands with areas greater than 5 hectares which lie off-shore and beyond. Many islands have become sanctuaries for threatened species, either as last outposts for plants or animals which occur nowhere else, or as rehabilitation centres for species transferred from the mainland or other islands. These island sanctuaries include most of the subantarctic outlying islands, such as the pristine Snares Islands, as well as the smaller islands in the Chathams group, the Three Kings (where Great Island became naturally reforested within 40 years of the eradication of goats), Whakaari (White Island), the Poor Knights, the Kermadec group, and Little Barrier Island (Towns et al., 1990).
The big advantage of islands is their isolation which makes it relatively easy to keep them free of weeds, browsing animals and predators. Their main disadvantage is their small size, which limits the population levels and species diversity they can support. Many islands also have a history as death traps because, once invaded by mammals or noxious plants, the vulnerable indigenous species have nowhere to run. When ship rats invaded Big South Cape Island in 1964, for example, robins, fernbirds, bush wrens, snipe, saddlebacks and the larger short-tailed bat were wiped out.
Ecological restoration is possible, however, even though extinct species cannot be brought back. Little Barrier Island is probably the most celebrated example. This 3,083 hectare island near Auckland was logged for kauri last century, but was made a Nature Reserve in 1894. Although it took some time, all mammals were removed from the island, except the Pacific rat (kiore). Today it has a rich regenerating lowland forest with an abundance of native birds and invertebrates. More recently, the eradication of possums from Kapiti Island, near Wellington, has resulted in a resurgence of flowering trees and bird populations. Rat eradication is now under way on the island. In Fiordland, the elimination of rats from Breaksea Island has allowed the return of the Fiordland skink ( Oligosoma acrinasum), threatened weevils and the South Island saddleback, a forest bird which is now extinct on its namesake island (Taylor and Thomas, 1993). It has also created an opportunity to rehabilitate several other species. A restoration programme has also begun on denuded Motutapu Island near Auckland. It involves environmental groups, local Māori and the wider Auckland public. Two-thirds of the island will be replanted in indigenous species during the next 50 years, including plants which have traditional cultural uses. A wetland will be restored and archaeological and traditional sites will be protected.
One of the most critical island restorations is occurring on 11,216 hectare Campbell Island, New Zealand's southernmost subantarctic island. It is the breeding ground for 95 percent of the world's royal albatrosses as well as elephant seals, yellow-eyed penguins, and many other species. In 1984 cattle were removed and, in 1991, the last sheep, allowing the island's original vegetation to start recovering. The eradication of cats and rats is being considered as an option over the next 5 to 10 years, as these have wiped out many of the islands' insects and all the smaller ground-dwelling birds, such as pipits and storm petrels. The Campbell Island teal is now a refugee on nearby Dent Island. Getting rid of the introduced species may not be enough, however. The numbers of large animals on the island have been dwindling for decades, perhaps because their food supplies are changing in response to changing sea temperatures. The waters around New Zealand have risen more than half a degree this century (Thwaites, 1994). The crustaceans on which the island's penguins usually feed have apparently migrated south, forcing the penguins to rely wholly on fish, in competition with marine mammals and fishing boats. Rockhopper penguin numbers have fallen from about 1 million pairs in the 1940s to about 50,000 pairs. Yellow-eyed penguin numbers have also declined and elephant seal numbers have decreased by more than 95 percent.
Through the ages, animal heroes, real and imaginary, have been immortalised in legend: Black Beauty (horse), Tarka (otter), Elsa (lioness), Didget (gorilla), Smokey (bear), Tex (whooping crane), Martha (the last passenger pigeon) and, closer to home, Pelorus Jack and Opo (dolphins), Z12 (yellow-eyed penguin) and Grandma (royal albatross). Each of these animal heroes has, in one way or another, advanced the causes of animal welfare or conservation. Not one, however, has matched the achievement of Old Blue, a female black robin in the Chatham Islands. Besides winning hearts and minds, she also won the race against extinction. Her story must surely be unique - a true tale of an individual who, with a little help from mate, rescued her kind from oblivion (Merton, 1992).
Old Blue came into the world about 1970 on Little Mangere Island. This speck in the sea, with its seven hectares of scrub-forest, had become the last refuge for her species. Although black robins had once been widespread throughout the Chatham Islands, by 1871, rats, cats and habitat disturbance by humans had exterminated them on all but two small islands. One hundred years later, the black robins were down to 18 individuals eking out a precarious existence on the smaller of these islands. By 1976, their numbers had slipped to just 7 individuals - 5 males and 2 females. One of the females was Old Blue. She was lucky to survive because even this tiny pocket of forest was shrinking fast, strangled by encroaching noxious plants. In 1976, all 7 robins were captured by Government wildlife experts in an audacious rescue operation, and transported down the 200 metre cliffs of Little Mangere and across the rough sea to Big Mangere Island. The following year a massive avalanche obliterated a third of their new forest refuge and the population fell to 5. Old Blue and her infertile mate were among the charmed survivors. By now she had already passed the average life span of her species, 5-6 years, and showed little sign of becoming the saviour of her kind. She had not produced a single chick.
In 1978, however, Old Blue did an unusual thing. Defying black robin custom, she changed mates, taking up with the only other male on the island, dubbed Old Yellow by the scientists. At age 9, robin dotage, she became a mother for the first time and, from then, until her death at age 13, she and Old Yellow produced 11 healthy offspring. Even this late effort would have been futile, however, were it not for the resourcefulness of her scientist midwives who knew the risks of putting all one's eggs in one basket. They fostered some of Old Blue's eggs to birds of other species in a bid to keep her eggs coming. It worked. By mid-1996, the black robin population had grown to 200 birds on two islands, all descendants of Old Blue and Old Yellow. This makes the black robin the most inbred wild bird species on Earth, and the only one for which the parentage and lineage of every individual is known and traceable to a single ancestral couple. Without that couple, and the scientists who watched over them, the black robins would be gone. The only question now, is whether the limited genetic variability in the surviving population will be sufficient to cope with the environmental conditions of the future. Only time will tell the answer to this, but, in the meantime, conservation scientists are attempting to spread the risk by establishing colonies of the species on several different islands.
Much of the ecological restoration work is undertaken as part of species conservation programmes. New Zealand's programmes have been described as the most imaginative and cost-effective in the world (Diamond, 1990). Innovative techniques pioneered here include the restoration and use of off-shore islands as refuges for threatened species and the use of cross-species fostering to increase chick production (see Boxes 9.23 and 9.24). In 1995/96 the Department ran 490 species conservation programmes, comprising 132 for birds, 171 for plants, 49 for reptiles, frogs, and bats, 40 for fish, 34 for invertebrates, and 78 multi-species programmes. Marine mammals are also the subject of ongoing programmes.
The Banks Peninsula Hector's dolphins and the New Zealand sea lions on the Otago coast are being monitored, fur seal populations and bycatch are being studied, and about 200-500 stranded whales are rescued each year.
Among the conservation programmes are about 40 species recovery programmes which target highly threatened species. These include bats, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish, invertebrates and plants. The programmes include research and monitoring, habitat restoration, predator control, captive breeding and transfers to new or underpopulated areas. Recovery programmes with high priority are those for kakapo, kiwi, black stilt, parea (Chatham Island pigeon) and taiko (Chatham Island seabird). Other birds receiving special attention are the yellow-eyed penguin, the New Zealand shore plover, the Chatham Island oystercatcher, the blue duck, brown teal, stitchbirds and the New Zealand dotterel.
Island restorations have been particularly successful (see Box 9.23). Each year the Department undertakes about 110 restoration programmes on off-shore islands. These involve pest eradications, revegetation and the introduction or reintroduction of threatened species. The Department's Pest Eradication Database shows that by April 1994, Norway rats had been eliminated from 20 islands and were in the process of being eliminated from 5 more. Ship rats had been eradicated from 6 islands and were still being eradicated from 12 more. Pacific rats had been eradicated from 14 islands and were being eradicated from 5 more. Mice had been eradicated from 5 islands and were being removed from 4 more.
The Department also has island eradication programmes for possums (3 complete, 8 in process, 1 failure); rabbits (12 complete, 4 in process), stoats (3 complete, 1 failure), ferrets (1 complete), cats (8 complete, 1 stopped), pigs (8 complete, 1 failed), goats (15 complete, 2 in process), cattle (4 complete), sheep (4 complete) and wekas (9 complete, 2 in process, 2 stopped, 2 failed). In 1996, an eradication programme for Norway and Pacific rats was initiated on Kapiti Island.
Pest control is a central element of all ecological protection programmes in New Zealand, on both islands and mainland reserves. Under the Wildlife Act 1953, the Wild Animals Control Act 1977 and the Conservation Act 1987, the Department of Conservation is responsible for controlling 'wild animals' (ecologically destructive mammals) and other pests and weeds on the conservation estate and unallocated Crown lands. These responsibilities are separate from those covered by the Biosecurity Act 1993 (which deals with pests and weeds in agricultural and urban areas, but not on conservation or forestry land) and by the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act (which covers the importation of potentially harmful foreign organisms and the creation of new ones through genetic manipulation).
In 1994/95, 328 animal pest control operations were carried out over 1.2 million hectares of conservation land, rising to 1.3 million hectares in 1995/96. Because of the size of the conservation estate, pest control is limited to selected high priority areas. The top priority pest is the Australian brushtail possum (see Box 9.25). Funding for possum control has increased in recent years. In 1994/95 the Department's control operations aimed to reduce possum numbers by at least 80 percent over some 200,000 hectares of forest. Increased funding in 1995/96 enabled the Department to expand these operations to about 380,000 hectares and more funding increases announced in the 1996 'Green Package' should enable further expansions in possum control during the next three years.
Feral goats are also major targets. In 1994/95 the Department ran more than 100 goat control operations covering about 760,000 hectares. It planned to do the same in 1995/96 and also to begin 8 tahr control operations to reduce numbers below the critical 10,000 mark. Besides animal pests, about 136 weed species have been identified as needing management on the conservation estate. Each year the Department carries out about 300 weed control operations for ecosystem restoration, targeting everything from old man's beard in forests, to wilding pines in tussock lands and spartina grass in waterways.
Few overseas tourists realise the extent to which conserving our beautiful forests requires the poisoning and trapping of millions of small furry mammals every year. Increasing efforts are being made to develop methods which are cost- effective, humane and harmless to other species, and improvements are slowly being made in each of these areas. Of the 60-70 million Australian possums estimated to infest our forests and shrublands, two-thirds are in the North Island. Numbers appear to have peaked in most areas between 1930 and the late 1960s (i.e. about 30-40 years after local colonisation). By 1980, possums were estimated to cover more than 90 percent of the country. They are still spreading into remote areas of South Westland, south-east Fiordland, Coromandel and Northland (Parliamentary Commission for the Environment, 1994; Department of Conservation, 1994c).
From 1951 to 1961, a bounty was offered for dead possums, but this had little effect on their numbers. Since then, widespread poisoning has been the main control method, augmented by trapping methods which range from the inhumane and non-lethal leg-hold or gin traps, to the more humane but lethal-to-kiwis kill-traps. The main poison used is a natural plant toxin called sodium fluoroacetate, which is more widely known as 'ten-eighty' (or 1080) after the sample label by which it was first identified. The poison occurs naturally in Africa, South America and Australia. In New Zealand, it is applied to diced carrot or pollard baits. Like the more humane sodium cyanide, which is also used for possum control, 1080 is fast-acting and biodegradable, leaving no residues in soil or water (Parliamentary Commission for the Environment, 1994).
However, considerable debate has occurred about its effect on non-target species which eat poisoned bait or carcasses. Invertebrates, birds and native bats are all susceptible though, on balance, their populations are thought to be more at risk from possum damage than from 1080. Dogs which eat freshly poisoned carcasses are highly sensitive to it, though not so cats and mustelids. No effects on human health have been demonstrated from environmental exposure to 1080, though a suicide and several cases of illness have resulted from drinking large quantities. Two other widely used poisons are: phosphorus and brodifacoum (Talon). Phosphorus causes painful death, but leaves little toxic residue. Talon is not painful and is usually broken down in the soil by bacteria and fungi, but it can leave toxic residue for up to a year in dry environments (Parliamentary Commission for the Environment, 1994).
The Department of Conservation is responsible for possum control on protected land, but possums are also a threat on farmland where they can pass bovine tuberculosis (Tb) on to cattle. As a result, possum control involves an intricate network of Government agencies, regional councils, research organisations and land users, all coordinated by the Animal Health Board through a national possum management strategy which was formulated under the Biosecurity Act 1993. Possums are not the only Tb carriers, but they are the most numerous. Deer, pigs, goats, cats, ferrets and stoats can also pass on the bacterium. The cattle's innate curiosity is partly to blame. When very ill possums stagger into fields they are often surrounded and closely inspected by curious cattle who then pick up the disease from the dying animals' breath.
The amount of money spent on possum control has risen considerably in recent years. At $20-$30 per hectare, control operations are costly. Total funding rose from $34 million in 1992-93 to $58 million in 1993-94. Most of this was to protect cattle from Tb, but one-third of it was also to protect indigenous ecosystems from possums. Government funding for the control of possums in natural areas rose from $7.3 million (with the Department of Conservation's share totalling $3.4 million) to $19.7 million (with Conservation's share rising to $8.4 million) (Parliamentary Commission for the Environment, 1994). The 1995 Budget further increased this sum, with the Department receiving an extra $5 million to help combat the 'furry chainsaws' and the 1996 'Green Package' increased funding again, providing an extra $20 million over three years for the Department's pest control operations and $6.25 million for research on better possum control methods.
Complete eradication is not feasible, so control measures have to be continual, with the focus constantly shifting to areas that are most vulnerable. While 1080 remains the control method of choice at present, researchers are striving to find methods which are more cost-effective, more humane and even less threatening to native wildlife. Biological controls have been suggested, but their development appears to be a long way off and carries biodiversity risks of its own. At present, poisons and traps are the price that we and the possums have to pay for the privilege of living in this unique but biologically ravaged part of the world.