Out-of-work Kiwis could soon find themselves helping boost New Zealand's nature, amid a billion-dollar spend on the environment in today's Budget.
It comes alongside more than $300m for pest control and management – and more than $430m on a package that would see unemployed people in the regions cleaning up rivers and helping restore wetlands.
The new jobs fund aims to create about 1800 roles to boost predator control efforts and planting, and improve waterways, tracks and huts.
Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage said the Department of Conservation would work alongside councils, iwi and local businesses like tourism operators.
"As well as getting people back to work, this initiative will support household incomes, and promote mental health and wellbeing for the people involved."
The roles would primarily be in the regions, and managed through agencies like the QEII Trust, Landcare Trust, regional councils and landowner groups.
"The workers will help protect and restore indigenous biodiversity and habitat, help with revegetation of private and public conservation land and undertake riparian planting," she said.
"There is an opportunity in these regions for people who have lost their jobs in other sectors to move into this habitat work, and the four-year investment programme will give businesses the certainty and confidence to invest and build their capacity and capability."
Sage told the Herald that many of those new jobs might be people in the tourism sector that had been pushed out of work by the pandemic.
They included guides working around Queenstown and south Westland who had "enormous skills" in logistics and already knew the outdoors well.
"The impact of Covid-19 is that a lot of people and very skilled positions have been made redundant - so it's an opportunity for them to use their skills in a different way."
She added that hundreds of millions dollars committed for major pest operations in previous years were still locked in – and there wasn't expected to be another "mast year" this summer that fuelled an explosion in pest numbers.
More "green jobs" – potentially about 4000 – would be created with a separate $433m spend on regional environmental projects for the next five years.
Environment Minister David Parker said the programme had been designed specifically in response to the impact of Covid-19.
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"This investment will contribute to improving the health of New Zealand's waterways and support economic recovery in partnership with local government and farmers," he said.
"It will include restoring mini wetlands, stabilising river banks, removing sediment, and providing for fish passage.
"The funding will support employment across New Zealand, including the Kaipara catchment."
Parker said the package allowed businesses considering redundancies and downscaling to redeploy their staff on environmentally focused activities in their home region.
"When those businesses are able to rehire again, workers can return to their previous roles."
Another large chunk of the green spend would help beat back pests – and continue the country's bid to be free of major pest predators by 2050.
The $315m package included $148m for DoC to ramp up pest control and eradication – specifically supporting the Predator Free New Zealand effort and working with iwi to stop the collapse of North Island forests.
Another $100m had been earmarked for jobs to curb the rampant spread of wilding pines, while $40m went toward Land Information NZ to undertake pest and weed control in rivers on Crown land, and $27m would help control ballooning populations of wallabies across the Bay of Plenty, Waikato, Canterbury and Otago.
Climate gets 'loose change' - Greenpeace
Greenpeace quietly applauded the Government's green spending – but dismissed the Budget's allocation for climate change as "loose change".
"Looking at where money's gone in the massive spend-up, you'd be forgiven for thinking that the climate crisis was no longer with us," its executive director Russel Norman said.
Direct spending in climate change included more than $1b on allocating New Zealand emission units and covering the loss on sale of them; $154m for administering the Emissions Trading Scheme; nearly $20m for policy and support of domestic and international climate programmes; and nearly $9m for the newly-formed Climate Change Commission.
"Unfortunately there's only loose change from Grant Robertson's pocket to address our most pressing existential challenge - climate change," Norman said.
Under current policies New Zealand was on track to increase net emissions by 20 per cent from 2005 to 2030, according to Government projections.
"The Finance Minister talked about Covid-19 being a one-in-a-hundred-year threat, but climate change is the threat that will decide if we have another hundred years on this planet."
Norman added there was little in today's Budget to make industrial farming more sustainable – and there also appeared to be nothing to support the rollout of household solar panels and batteries, which the grid operator Transpower had identified as key to decarbonising the energy system.
The Environmental Defence Society's chief executive Gary Taylor was meanwhile happy with the commitments for nature, calling the Budget a "green new deal".
"This spending is not only creating new jobs but providing direct support for the Government's freshwater reforms which we look forward to being rolled out soon," he said.
"A dedicated investment of $100 million in control of wilding pines gives us a chance to get on top of that insidious threat to our outstanding high country landscapes, while additional funding will enable ramping up much-needed pest and weed control efforts elsewhere in the country."
The EDS had strongly supported the Jobs for Nature Fund during its gestation.
"The provision of $200m for spending on restoring our natural heritage will have spinoff benefits for the recovering tourism sector."
Fish and Game New Zealand's Martin Taylor welcomed the targeted spending toward wetlands, lakes and rivers.
"This will help New Zealand become more environmentally sustainable, so we can safely swim and fish in our lakes, rivers and streams."
Forest and Bird chief Kevin Hague was similarly happy – but added the cash going to green jobs still paled in comparison with an as yet an allocated $20b infrastructure fund.
"The unspent COVID recovery funding needs to deliver nature-friendly infrastructure that cuts New Zealand's greenhouse gas emissions and delivers a transformation of fishing, farming and forestry into a genuinely sustainable primary sector," he said.
"Fast tracking projects as part of our Covid recovery risks creating a legacy of problems for the next generation, which Forest & Bird is very concerned about."
Hague said that any fast-tracked Resource Management Act legislation should have strong environmental bottom lines that guaranteed only projects which protect the environment could progress.
"The alternative is that New Zealand is locked into an economic model that leads to long term harm for the environment, and public wellbeing."
He also noted there was very little detail in the budget on specific climate investment.
"However, $1b for improvements to rail and ferry networks could be great news for carbon emissions, as long as environmental impacts of corridor and harbour developments are not overlooked."