We Kiwis like to imagine we value and protect our environment, but on that score, we're failing.

It's not so much that we don't care, as that we don't care enough. And I suspect that has to do with the nature of the land itself.

See, we live in such a magical country that even though we've chopped, ploughed, dug, burned and otherwise extracted as much of its riches as we could over the past few hundred years, it's still somewhere most folk think a type of paradise.

That's why people visit, and what they expect. Certainly it's how we sell ourselves.


Growing up amidst the diversity of New Zealand's natural attributes blinds us to the creep of rot and the spoilage of beauty all around.

Truth is, it's tarnished, and has been for quite a long time.

With 985 creatures now at risk of extinction, 60 per cent of waterways unfit to swim in, and any number of equally alarming statistics telling us our land is chronically ill, we can no longer deny that degradation.

Thirty years ago, it seemed we had recognised this.

After years of lobbying by pesky "greenies", the Lange government created the Department of Conservation specifically to protect our natural heritage.

At the same time the Resource Management Act was being drafted, and we led the world in environmentally positive legislation.

By now, you would think, Aotearoa should be a shining example of how to meld a modern economy with sustainable practices; the real deal when it comes to living up to even half the 100% Pure promise.

But no. Because if there's one thing we Kiwis are good at, it's denial; and there's no better way to deny a problem than to pretend we've fixed it.

Even as DoC was starting the huge task of trying to manage the 30 per cent of the country they'd been entrusted with, including all the "best bits", they were being hamstrung by Treasury boffins who demanded every cent be justified and every dollar explained.

That attitude - that the environment has to justify itself like a profit-driven business - has continued to this day, resulting in budget cuts and restructurings almost yearly.

So there are 20 per cent fewer DoC Rangers now than even seven years ago - with one-and-a-half endangered species for each of them. And that's just the wildlife.

Meanwhile the smash-and-grab neoliberal approach to the planet has incrementally neutered the RMA and corrupted the purpose of DoC, to the point the department did not even submit on the Denniston Plateau coal mining project in its preserve a few years back - and it remains to be seen how it will react to the newly announced application which would destroy Denniston's unique dwarf alpine forest with an open pit extracting coal for foreign consumption.

The ministers in charge are culpable. The current one, Maggie Barry, is busy trying to subvert the conservation estate's sanctity by trading some of it to enable the Ruataniwha irrigation scheme to proceed.

Now the "house full" signs are going up on our nine Great Walks because tourists are flocking in to buy the myth, but despite a fee increase DoC still isn't charging visitors enough to cover maintenance costs - and this seems to be being used to excuse a move to privatise access to some of our most iconic scenery.

This is our peculiar version of care: enough to put mechanisms in place to preserve our wonderland; not enough to ensure they actually work.

Put expediency before nature and she'll be right? She won't be, and she isn't. Deny that and we've lost the precious plot.