Doc species support holds up

Funds to protect and enhance Otago's treasured and threatened species have so far remained steady despite cuts to the Department of Conservation's funding.

However, Otago staff are not confident it will remain that way in coming years.

Doc Wanaka area manager Paul Hellebreker, speaking while acting Otago Conservator, said from the early 2000s to 2008, Doc in Otago experienced significant increases in its budget but from then the budget plateaued.

''In the past year, in my experience, there have been cuts.''

Figures that would show the most recent funding constraints would not be available until later this year. Additionally, Doc staff had been told they could face another round of cuts with a restructuring proposal in March. Overall funding for species had dropped $74,000 from $1.127 million in 2006 to $1.052 million last year, although funding for key programmes for the Taiaroa Head albatross, Otago and grand skinks, yellow-eyed penguins and freshwater fish had all increased.

Business accountant Ralph Popplewell said the drop reflected the end of Operation Ark, in which the Otago conservancy received one-off funding in 2006 to help protect mohua in the Catlins.

What the figures did not show was many of the cuts to Doc funding had been in the ''indirect costs'' such as back office functions so funding of biodiversity projects could be protected.

Community support manager Ken Stewart said overall funding for Otago biodiversity projects had remained similar in recent years, with increases in the freshwater fish and skink projects due to the importance of those species.

In the past six years, funding for the freshwater fish programme had increased from $224,800 to $307,000 while the Otago and Grand skinks had gone from $435,300 to $467,900.

Doc needed the support of the community to help it achieve conservation goals, he said.

Tenure review had meant the area Doc Otago looked after had increased by 55,000ha since 2006, so in turn had budgets for plant and animal pests from $1.4 million to $2.1 million and tracks management from $882,000 to $1.1 million.

Otago received $2.28 million from concessions (businesses operating on Doc land) up from $2.1 million six years before, and $19,000 in sponsorships.

Staff numbers had increased from 102 to 143 although many positions had been changed and some people were now working with a national, rather than local focus, he said.

Yellow-eyed Penguin Trust general manager Sue Murray said there was no doubt non-governmental agencies such as the trust were playing an increasing role in providing conservation effort, and they struggled for funds.

The trust, Doc and other agencies collaborated to work on the conservation of yellow-eyed penguins which involved sharing a range of resources such as staff time, volunteer programmes, penguin expertise, emergency response, advocacy and education.

''It is difficult to put a monetary value to these.''


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