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Prior to 1987, most Crown-owned land in New Zealand was managed by the Lands and Survey Department (L&S).
In 1987, L&S was restructured into the Department of Conservation (Doc), Landcorp and Forestcorp. Most of the commercial-minded senior management people went to Landcorp and Forestcorp.
Doc gained practical hands-on field staff, but many of their management people took a very idealistic view that they would save the environment and could do it alone.
Of course DOC is not adequately resourced to sustainably manage the 35% or so of New Zealand that it is responsible for, but that did not stop it spending considerable resources in advocating how other landowners should manage their land.
This regularly brought it into conflict with local communities. A particular point of conflict was that crown land was not bound to the same standards of weed and pest control as were adjoining landowners.
However, attitudes and policies are changing. Doc is taking a less aggressive role in advocacy on lands of other tenures, leaving this role to the many lobby groups, which is more properly where it should lie.
Government has decided that Crown-owned land must adapt a good neighbour policy, which means that at least across boundaries crown agencies must manage weeds and pests to the standards that regional pest management strategies require.
Doc is recognising that it cannot do it all itself and is increasingly working in with local communities and landowners. There are many people out there keen to help.
In discussion with Paul Hellebrekers, Wanaka field centre manager, I understand the field centre has at least 17 formal management agreements or memorandums of understanding.
These cover aspects such as the very successful agreement to manage New Zealand Alpine Club-owned huts in the West Matukituki, relocation of robins to the West Matukituki, buff weka to the lake islands, restoration of vegetation and facilities on Mou Whau Island to predator trapping at Makarora and Rocky Hill.
As well, there are many informal agreements with adjoining landowners covering pest control and access.
In the past, Doc has been extremely conservative and stereotyped in management techniques. However, this is also changing.
DOC and Scion together have done excellent work on developing chemical mixtures and application methods to control wilding conifers. This was an area of badly needed research.
In 2006, when I first became involved in the Mid Dome Wilding Tree Trust all parties threw up their hands in horror at my suggestion that we consider fire as a management tool.
However, they are now considering fire as a management tool and supporting two trials on adjoining farmland.
I have long felt that Doc needed to work more collaboratively with local communities and be more innovative in management to achieve best results. The fact that this is happening is very positive. Fundamental to this is the building of trust. Trust takes time to build and can be destroyed overnight, so needs to be worked on continuously.
New Zealand farmers are among the most adaptable in the world, largely because we are innovative and flexible in our on-farm management and learn from each other and science.
Where we also co-operate in marketing, as in dairy, we are very strong. Where we do not co-operate, as in wool, we are weak.
The same broad principles apply to conservation management.
- John Aspinall