Jamie Morton is the NZ Herald's science reporter.

Drive for conservation fund boost

Kea is on the threatened list. Photo / iStock
Kea is on the threatened list. Photo / iStock

A major environmental group wants to see more money for conservation funding amid Thursday's Budget announcements, as newly released data shows more of New Zealand's species are faring worse.

The Government this month announced that an extra $20.7 million in operating funding, sourced from the previous Budget, would be spent on the largest pest control operation in the country's history to protect threatened birds and other species.

But the Environmental Defence Society (EDS) said higher baseline funding for the Department of Conservation was needed to help reverse the overall trend of biodiversity decline.

The Green Party has released documents showing the threat classification of 142 species, including some bird species, has worsened since 2008. In the majority of cases, the reasons for the reclassification was a "re-interpretation of data" or more knowledge about the species.

The party, however, argued that conservation funding cuts - it claimed that, compared with the previous government, there had been an average $56 million less spent per year since 2008 - were putting "enormous strain" on frontline staff responsible for maintaining the DoC estate.

EDS chairman Gary Taylor told the Herald it was simplistic to blame funding alone for biodiversity decline - something also driven by varied factors such as poor priority setting, "weak regulation" and agency capture - but added the Greens were "right to implicate funding".

The group had asked Prime Minister John Key for more funding for DoC to increase the range of pest management, address tourism pressures and bolster core capacity.

"Species have been in decline in New Zealand since 1300 and it should be possible in 2016 to say that we'll put a stop to that," Mr Taylor said.

"We know what to do, we just need the political will and leadership."

Conservation Minister Maggie Barry has rejected assertions that DoC is underfunded.

"In the last eight years, we've put in an extra $90 million into DoC's baseline funding," she told TVNZ's Q&A programme yesterday.

Ms Barry said the level had increased from $316 million to around $380 million today.

"So the idea that Cabinet hasn't prioritised it is wrong."

Further, conservation had benefited from extra funding that had come through from partners and collaboratives, including $100 million over 10 years from the Next Foundation and Project Janszoon, some of which was shared with DOC projects.

But she acknowledged tourism presented "enormous challenges" to conservation.

"I've had talks with the Prime Minister and with the Associate Tourism Minister, Paula Bennett, about ways in which we can ensure that we allow as many people as we can into our estates but that those people don't damage the very place they come to visit and want to see in a pristine state."

- NZ Herald

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