Brian Rudman: Rulers of the wild have tame record in Auckland

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My call for the Department of Conservation to rattle its dags over the eradication of pests on Rangitoto and Motutapu Islands has upset director-general Al Morrison.

That's excellent. Catching the attention of the Wellington-based rulers of the bugs and birds and the wild 30 per cent of the New Zealand land mass is not easy. Especially for those of us in the far-off human biosphere of Auckland.

Mr Morrison complains that my suggesting his department is dragging the chain over ridding the two Hauraki Gulf islands of pests is akin to saying the Pope doesn't celebrate Christmas.

But then he makes excuses why the poisoning won't begin until 2010. The main one being it would cost a "fair and reasonable" $1 million to buy out the grazing lease on Motutapu. As the masters of an 8 million hectare empire, you might have thought DoC would have been able to find an alternative grazing spot to offer the grazier somewhere else, without vast sums having to change hands, but let's stick to my crisis of faith in Pope Al and his department's intentions.

If my doubts do prove to be groundless I'll be the first to apologise. But DoC has to take some responsibility for my worries. Its track record in Auckland is hardly flawless.

Why, for example, if they are, as he says, dedicated to eliminating every pest from Rangitoto, did they stop at possums and wallabies a decade ago, and leave the rats and mice and stoats and hedgehogs and cats to continue terrorising the natives?

Then there's the department's shocking track record regarding Auckland's volcanic cones. In 1995, as an article of faith, DoC committed itself to seeking World Heritage status for the cone field as an integral part of its conservation strategy. Then it stood to one side as Transit New Zealand's bulldozers lined up to drive through the side of Mt Roskill. It was the brave volunteers of the Volcanic Cones Society who came to the rescue, not DoC. Worse, in January 2005, when DoC released a list of six tentative candidates for World Heritage site listing, the Auckland cones were totally missing.

In my Monday column, my underlying fear was that if a National Government was returned next November and the poisoning programme hadn't begun, the eradication programme might be shelved. Motutapu Restoration Trust volunteer Peter Pritchard has cheered me up with a message that National's Conservation spokesman, Nick Smith, "was out on Motutapu only three weeks ago doing the hard yards getting rid of moth plant, woolly nightshade, etc along Home Bay area along with the rest of the volunteers of the Motutapu trust. He certainly has a good appreciation of what is happening out there, and appears to be a very keen advocate of getting the Motutapu / Rangitoto islands pest free."

Maybe there is a Santa after all.

All of which doesn't leave much room for an annual wrap-up, which is just as well. Flicking through this year's columns, 2007 seems to be ending as it began, on squabbles over a rugby World Cup venue and the chaos in upgrading Queen St. If there was any consensus emerging, it centred on the belief there must be a better way of running Auckland. But true to form, there was no unanimity about what the magic solution was. Which is why the Government kicked the problem high over the grandstand into the never never and appointed a royal commission into Auckland governance with firm instructions not to report back until after the 2008 general election.

With hundreds of local politicians and senior bureaucrats having to scrub up and justify their existence to the commissioners, it's going to be an interesting year. We can only hope it doesn't also lead to a year of paralysis, with everyone so busy jockeying for the commission's ear that progress on issues like transport and regional amenities funding becomes stalled.

I'll be back mid-January. Thanks again to all those who've passed on ideas and comments.

I do try to reply to all I can, but sometimes they do disappear into a midden on my desk top - either electronic or actual.

To those people, thanks for the input and sorry for the tardy response.

Enjoy the holidays.

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