107 scientists slam Doc cuts

Concern about job losses in the Department of Conservation (Doc) has prompted 107 New Zealand scientists - including five from the University of Otago - to sign a letter of protest addressed to Minister of Conservation Kate Wilkinson and Doc director-general Al Morrison.

In June, the department told staff of plans to shed 100 jobs, which would come from office-based support functions at its national office in Wellington, and regional conservancy offices, including Dunedin.

The letter, organised by Emeritus Prof Sir Alan Mark, of the University of Otago and Dr Kevin Parker, of Massey University, states the job losses are "to the detriment of New Zealand conservation and ultimately to New Zealanders".

"We acknowledge the current economic challenges facing the globe but we also ask that conservation management and science be properly acknowledged as a strategic asset for the wealth of all New Zealanders and funded as such. Recessions come and go, extinction is forever."

The letter also states New Zealand has an "outstanding international reputation" for conservation which has been won through bringing "iconic species" such as the Chatham Island robin, kakapo, takahe and saddleback back from the "brink of extinction".

However, to continue doing such work "requires a well-funded Department of Conservation and secure roles within the department".

Ms Wilkinson said the Government was "focused on reining in spending and getting the books into surplus".

"We're absolutely committed to conservation. Funding for species recovery has been maintained and Doc's restructure is focused on removing duplication in and streamlining the back office so field staff can continue their work on the ground.

"There will always be those who believe the only solution to a problem is throwing money at it. We need to be smarter than that right now."

Although Prof Mark could not be reached for comment yesterday, the protest letter stated "to suggest that rangers and field-based staff will not be affected by these changes, as the minister and director-general claim, is ludicrous".


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