Resourcing Conservation Management (2011)

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Considering the relative importance conservation has to our economy and national identity, conservation in NZ is grossly under resourced. The Department of Conservation (DOC) uses various methods to manage conservation efforts. The focus of this page is to evaluate the outcomes of these methods, assess their effectiveness and suggest alternatives. This will be achieved by dividing the department into its two functions; Conservation and Recreation and researching several relevant case studies, each with a different management method.

The following case studies used to examine the outcomes and effectiveness of specific methods used by DOC:

  • Codfish Island - A small offshore island, 3km west of Stewart Island where the majority of kākāpō recovery efforts are being managed by DOC and other organisations. No public access is allowed, only staff involved with biodiversity management.
  • Boundary Stream - A mainland island situated on the eastern flanks of the Maungaharuru Range, about 60 km northwest of Napier. It is managed entirely by DOC and public access is allowed.
  • Humpridge Track - A southland tramping track which partially runs over DOC land but is managed by private operators who pay concessions for use of the DOC estate. Public access is allowed but guided tours are also offered at an increased price.

Department of Conservation

The DOC was established under the Conservation Act 1987, following a review of environmental administration. The department represents the collaboration of almost all major conservation functions of the Government, previously located in NZ Forest Service, Department of Lands & Survey, Wildlife Service, Historic Places Trust in the Department of Internal Affairs, the Commission for the Environment, and the Ministries of Transport and Agriculture and Fisheries (Morris et al. 1995). DOC is the central government department charged with promoting conservation of the natural and historic heritage of New Zealand on behalf of, and for the benefit of, present and future New Zealanders. DOC is responsible for the sustainable management of approximately one third of New Zealand by land area, which equates to 8.5 million hectares, 33 marine reserves (1.28 million hectares), and 6 marine mammal sanctuaries (2.4 million hectares) (DOC, 2010). As of 30 June 2010 DOC employed 1843.7 permanent equivalent full-time staff and 225.9 temporary equivalent staff over 49 conservancies (See map of Conservation Conservancies)(DOC, 2010).

Department of Conservation conservancies


"New Zealand is the greatest living space on Earth". This bold vision is what DOC seeks to create and sustain. The purpose of the department is to sustain and enhance ecosystems and connect people to the source of their well-being, prosperity and sense of identity (DOC, 2010).

Operating Intentions:

  • Maintain and restore the diversity of our natural heritage.
  • History is protected and brought to life.
  • More people participate in recreation.
  • More people engage with conservation and value its benefits.
  • More business opportunities delivering increased economic prosperity and conservation gain.

DOC measures its effectiveness by:

  • Tracking changes in native vegetation cover across NZ by environment type and level of protection.
  • Tracking trends in benefits New Zealanders seek and receive from the natural, historic and cultural heritage managed by DOC.
  • Tracking the relative value of conservation as an indicator of support for conservation.


  • On 1 April 1987 DOC was formed by New Zealand's fourth Labour Government when the Conservation Act 1987 was passed to integrate the Department of Lands and Survey, the Forest Service, and the Wildlife Service. The Department was launched by Prime Minister David Lange in Wellington, beginning with 1111 permanent and 719 casual staff nationwide (DOC, 2011b).
  • It was first Ministered by Russell Marshall, and followed within the first three years by Helen Clark and Phillip Woollaston and Ken Piddington as its first Director-General. The current Minister in the Government is Kate Wilkinson. The staffs were brought in from the major land management organisations; the NZFS and the Department of Lands and Survey, and the much smaller Wildlife Service and the Archaeology Section of the New Zealand Historic Places Trust, both of the Department of Internal Affairs, as well as other government agencies.
  • The Department had a rocky start in financial terms, as it was launched with no central financial system. The eight DOC regions around the country and 34 districts operated more or less independently. The first year’s budget which was around $185 million was said to have been overspent by 3.1%, and was then removed from the 1988-1989 allocation. The Department’s money was misused by those who could, and splashed out in flash outfits which stirred up public condemnation from the environmental NGOs; that the money was for conservation purposes, not flashy outfits.
  • By 1990 DOC had made some achievements as seen in the increasing numbers of Chatham Island black robin, of more than 100. This was achieved despite having only one breeding pair in 1979 and widespread scepticism on whether the species would survive. The New Zealand Conservation Authority was formed with 17 regional conservation boards to oversee national parks management, among other duties (DOC, 2011b).
  • Amendments were made in 1990 to the Conservation Act 1987 to improve the department’s planning with conservation management strategies.
  • A year on in 1991 Nga Whenua Rahui was set up to help Maori land owners in conserving biodiversity on their land. The relationship between DOC and iwi was boosted with the establishment of the Kaupapa Atawhai managers’ network, and increasing involvement in Treaty settlement processes. This resulted in the increasing involvement of iwi in managing some reserves, with assistance from DOC.
  • In that same year the Resource Management Act 1991 (RMA) lifted the states on DOC’s advocacy role- DOC had now a responsibility to show the effects on conservation values of development proposals. In taking on coastal responsibilities from the Ministries of Agriculture and Fisheries, and Transport in 1987, it fell to the Department to lead work on the New Zealand Coastal Policy Statement, which was completed three years later (1994).
  • The Department of Conservation is doing their role in conserving our natural and historic resources; however the work cannot be accomplished by the department’s staff alone, it is crucial to engage and support the community including the local iwi, in a meaningful and sustained manner to get the best we can for conserving. The public can interact with the Department via the Conservation Board.
DOC's protection of the kākāpō

Conservation Boards are independent bodies, established by the Conservation Act 1987, which provides for interaction between the public and the Department of Conservation at conservancy level. Each board represents the community of interest in the work of the Department and conservation in general within the board’s area of jurisdiction. The primary role of a Conservation Board is to adhere the Department and the New Zealand Conservation Authority (NZCA) (DOC, 2011a). The functions of board’s are set out in Section 6 of the Conservation Act 1987, and the National Parks and Reserves Act 1980. A board’s focus is on policy issues, strategic direction on planning, ad not day-to-day operational details of the Department’s work. Major responsibilities of each board are participating in the development of conservation management strategy (CMS) and any national park management plan for its specific area of jurisdiction, and overseeing their implementation. The CMS implements general policies and establishes objectives for the integrated management by the Department of natural and historic resources, and for recreation, tourism, and other conservation purposes (DOC, 2011a).


Conservation plays a fundamental role in maintaining our countrys clean green image which is the basis of our thriving tourism industry. Tourism is New Zealands single largest foreign exchange earner (DOC, 2006) with conservation indirectly creating 1 in 10 jobs and approximately $20 billion for New Zealands economy (DOC, 2011). It is clear that conservation has significant direct and indirect economic benefits. These benefits however, also extend to environmental products which are often overlooked and taken for granted. For example, conservation land often contributes to clean water supplies (DOC, 2011). An example of this is Mount Cook National Park which supplies fresh water to the Benmore Dam.

New Zealand has a very large and ecologically diverse conservation estate coupled with a relatively small economy. Therefore, resourcing the management of conservation in NZ is a major issue. With budgeted spending on conservation and heritage being pulled back not only in New Zealand but internationally, this further limits what is achievable in terms of conservation outcomes. New Zealand has approximately 2000 at-risk species that need constant management however, only a little over 200 of these species are actively managed. Also, the effective management of wilding pine would require a budget of at least $1 Billion (Wilkinson, 2010). New Zealand does not have that kind of budget. Following the election of a National led government in 2008, it was announced as part of the 2009 budget that the Department of Conservation would have its $1.6 billion budget cut by $54 million over 4 years (Chug, 2011). With no change in what is expected of DoC, this has placed huge pressure on an already under-resourced department.

To further exacerbate this, the structure of DOC is perhaps not functioning as efficiently as it could. A survey of DOC staff in 2009 revealed that staff felt there was inadequate recognition from both DOC head office and central government that management and recovery of threatened species requires security of funding and retention of specialised staff (Seabrook-Davison et al. 2010). This suggests that current performance and outcomes cannot be maintained if funding and staffing are reduced.

It is well known that the management of biodiversity cannot be entirely reliant on departments of government (Scofield et al, 2011). Thus, a sense of ownership and understanding needs to be promoted amoungst communities, businesses and NGOs. Conservation already depends highly on volunteer labour and in 2009, conservation projects received 26000 work days from 7000 volunteers (Wilkinson, 2010). Volunteer, community and private business involvement is likely to be important for future conservation efforts in New Zealand.

Allocation of DOC land

Island Conservation Methods

The Department of Conservation is responsible for the management of approximately 220 offshore islands (greater than 5ha in size) and 5 major mainland islands. Offshore and mainland islands represent two different conservation methods with more or less the same ecological outcomes in mind. Offshore islands tend to focus on eradication of pest species whereas with mainland islands, emphasis is on control. Of the approximately 220 offshore islands managed be DOC, 42% of these are classed as nature reserves which require a permit to visit. While off-shore islands require significant initial investment to eradicate pest species, ongoing maintenance and surveillance costs are extremely low when compared to their mainland island counterparts (Scofield et al. 2011). The trade off however is the restricted recreation outcomes available from offshore islands where public access is generally prohibited or by permit only. It is with regard to recreation opportunities where mainland islands perform much better. While ongoing costs associated with the control of pest species is high, the recreation and education outcomes achievable with mainland islands is far beyond that achievable on offshore islands.

Conservation Case Studies

The following case studies provide examples of an offshore and mainland island.

Boundary Stream Mainland Island

Codfish Island Offshore Island


Recreation is an integral part of what DOC does in New Zealand and one of their five operating intentions focuses purely on it. The Recreation intention of DOC is to encourage more people to participate in recreation. This is a critical aspect of their work because it is a way for them to engage communities and Tangata Whenuato support conservation by experiencing it. It is also a way for DOC to make money to provide more funding for both facility development and conservation.

Although DOC’s primary purpose is to manage the conservation of New Zealand's natural and historic heritage, they also want people to be able to visit and enjoy these places and experience New Zealand in a fun and recreational way. At times however, recreation perhaps comes second to conservation objectives when access is restricted to protect species. This is especially comoon when species are near extinction and conservation is the sole objective as is the case of off-shore islands, like Codfish Island. While at other times both recreation and conservation can occur in harmony with each other and both flourish if the outcomes are similar e.g. the Boundary Stream Mainland Island, which seeks to be both an enjoyable and educational recreation attraction and a conservation area to protect the species that inhabit it.

Trees in a New Zealand National Park

Recreation Methods used by DOC

DOC have a range of methods that fall under Recreation that they use to both make money (to fund further Conservation work and maintain standards) and to get more people to participate in recreation. The aim of more people participating in recreation which is a main operating intention is also one of DOC's main goals under their new Destination Management Framework (DMF). The DMF aims for New Zealand to become the "greatest living space on Earth" (DMF, 2011) by having a healthy functioning environment and a vast choice of recreational spaces and options which they believe is good for everyones future health and wellbeing.

DOC uses various methods to achieve these aims and objectives including Information and Opprotunity promotion, Education to Schools and community groups, Concession based Recreation and on-going maintenance of Recreation and Conservation facilities that are accessible to the public such as Huts, National parks and Forest park walkways.

Concession based Recreation

  • "A concession is an official authorisation to operate in an area managed by DOC. It may be in the form of a lease, licence, permit or easement" (DOC, 2011).
  • These cocessions can be issued for anywhere between 3 and 10 years and are dependent on strict criteria agreed upon on recieving the concession.
  • Concession range from permission for access or easement across DOC land, to grazing permits and Guiding Licences.
  • They can be issued to individual people or families, Tour Companies and Guides or Iwi's and Trusts such as The Otago Natural History Trust that is responsible for both their own and DOC land in the Orokonui Sanctuary and the Tuatapere Hump Track Trust who is in charge of the Hump Ridge Track.
  • Concession based tourism occurs in three National Parks and on a variety of other conservation areas.
  • In some cases DOC still manages the land that is used for concessions e.g. permits and easements such as access concessions, Filming/Photography concessions and land use for one off events. While in situations where the land is leased, DOC hands the responsibility for caring for the land over to the leasee e.g. in the case of the Orokonui Eco-Sanctuary and the Hump Ridge Track. The leasee's become 'guardians' of the land for a specified amount of time with strict conditions and can apply to continue their lease at the end of the period if they wish.
  • Granting of concessions generally has positive conservation and business outcomes and allow DOC to generate income from business use of the Doc estate.

Maintenance of recreation / conservation facilities

  • These include National Parks, Forest park Walkways, Huts and infrastructure
  • National parks are an example of where both conservation and recreation outcomes are sought but a greater importance is placed on recreation when compared to other methods.
  • The maintenance and management of National and Forest Park facilities by DOC can be considered as a recreation method as providing facilities and infrastructure encourages the public to use and experience what DOC have to offer either freely or at a low cost e.g. when staying at huts and in DOC camp grounds (Concession based).
  • The many walkways managed by DOC, as either National Parks, Forest parks or other conservation areas, are ways for DOC to encourage individuals, families and communities to get out and experience what they have to offer.
  • DOC manages $400 million worth of recreation assets (DOC, 2006) which includes huts, tracks and education.

Recreation Case Studies

The following case studies provide examples of different recreation methods employed by DOC.

Boundary Stream Mainland Island

Humpridge Track


New Zealand as a country is extremely dependent on its biodiversity and natural heritage values. Conservation of these values is important for present and future generations and is the primary purpose of DOC. There is however huge demand on the department to achieve what are effectively unrealistic outcomes given the lack of central government funding.

In terms of management methods used, offshore islands are by far the most effective in achieving conservation outcomes. Success of this method is clearly evident with the likes of the Kakapo Recovery Programme on Codfish Island. The issue with offshore islands however is that recreation opportunities are virtually nonexistent. Conversely, mainland islands combine conservation outcomes with recreation opportunities very effectively. With education also an important outcome sought by mainland islands, they are arguably more effective as a management method. The ability of mainland islands to integrate conservation, recreation and education outcomes has great power in terms of increasing conservation awareness and public support for conservation. This is likely to be a critical aspect of future conservation in New Zealand. Offshore islands should remain a method but perhaps only for the most threatened of species. Emphasis should be on population expansion and relocation to mainland islands.

Given the current state of government funding and following recent budget and subsequent staffing cuts, it is unlikely that DOC can continue to achieve its desired conservation and recreation outcomes. Already we are seeing evidence of private business and organisation intervention, often for mutual gain. This privatization is perhaps where the future of conservation in New Zealand lies. Broadly speaking, there are four possible conservation management options:

  • Complete ownership and management by DOC - An example of this is Boundary Stream mainland island where the land is part of the DOC estate and all aspects, from species management to visitor information are managed by DOC and / or volunteers under the direction of DOC.
  • DOC ownership and partial management - An example of this is Codfish Island where the Kakapo recovery effort is being managed by DOC but receives financial backing and involvement from other businesses and organisations including Forest & Bird and Tinto Alcan.
  • DOC ownership of land assets but management and control is the responsibility of another entity. Examples of this are: Humpridge Track where the Tuatapare Humpridge Track Trust operate a private business on DOC land and pay concessions to DOC. Orokonui Eco-sanctuary where the Orokonui Wildlife Trust are responsible for species management and ecosystem restoration on / partially on DOC land.
  • Complete privatization - An example of this is Cape Kidnappers Sanctuary where the land is owned, and operations are managed entirely by private entities.

DOC already encourage businesses and communities to be involved with conservation projects. This encouragement should extend to the privatization of conservation projects. It is important however that the DOC estate is retained in its entirety by the department. Thus, DOC should promote and encourage the conversion of private land into conservation land for management by private entities. Where possible DOC should remain an overseer of private conservation projects to ensure that natural heritage values are increased or maintained in the most effective manner possible. Through this it is also important that recreation opportunities are maintained to an extent that is not detrimental to the desired conservation outcomes.


Chug, K (2011) More job losses on cards for DOC. 5 March 2011. Dominion Post / (downloaded 5 Sept. 2011).

Department of Conservation (2006) The Value of Conservation.

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Department of Conservation (2010) online: annual report year ending 30 June 2010, Availible: (downloaded 23 August 2011)

Department of Conservation(2011a) Fact sheet for members of the New Zealand Conservation Authority and the Conservations boards, Fact sheet 2.

Department of Conservation (2011b) online: A short history of the Department of Conservation: 1987-2007 (downloaded 23 August 2011).

Department of Conservation (2011c) online: Two Kakapo Found Dead. (downloaded 18 September, 2011).

Department of Conservation (2011d) online: Boundary Stream Mainland Island. (downloaded 22 September 2011)

Department of Conservation (2011e) online: Boundary Stream Mainland Island Strategic Plan. (downloaded 22 September 2011) Humpridge Track (2011) online: Tuatapere Humpridge Track. (downloaded September, 2011).

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Wilkinson, K (2010) Address to Forest & Bird AGM 28 June 2010.