Right of Access

Recreational access to public conservation land is a right for all New Zealanders. Tramping, hunting, fishing or gathering kai, are a core part of what it is to be a Kiwi. These things are part of the social fabric of New Zealand - the abundance of outdoors access is one of the defining features of our country. ACT will ensure that DOC has, in addition to its priority of preservation of the natural environment in public conservation land, a second priority of ensuring safe recreational access to public conservation land. This includes ensuring that tracks and huts are safe and suitable for use for trampers, tourists, hunters and fishers.

ACT’s goal is a constructive and cooperative relationship between the hunting and tramping communities, DOC, and the wider public. ACT will ensure that DOC management of conservation land, including national parks, must include the main users of those parks, including hunters and trampers.

ACT respect the property rights of Ngai Tuhoe to Te Urewera. It is their land. If there is to be free and safe access to New Zealanders, then it is right that DOC pay Ngai Tuhoe to allow for that, including maintaining huts and tracks. But that must be transparent and accountable, something that is currently missing in the secretive burning of DOC huts in Te Urewera.

Pest Control and Game Animal Management

Pests are major costs to New Zealand’s natural environment and economy. The biggest government spender undertaking pest control is DOC ($148 million). But there is also MPI who run responses and surveillance ($76.5 million), regional government (at least $76 million), OSPRI ($55 million for mostly possum control and Predator Free activities), but most of all, private landowners (farmers are estimated to spend almost $400 million a year). ACT will continue to support government contribution to pest control.

Hunting is a valuable activity for many New Zealanders and helps control pests to maintain balance in our unique ecosystems. ACT supports sustainable management of valued game animals and hunting for recreation, jobs, commerce, food/kai and conservation. The guided hunting sector alone is estimated to generate over $100 million in direct foreign investment annually and employ 530 people, and there are 50-80,000 game hunters in New Zealand. Unfortunately, Government policy often fails to recognise these realities and benefits. ACT believes we must protect our country’s unique flora and fauna by eradicating pests and predators. Preservation of threatened species, especially, must take priority. But we also recognise that fishing, hunting and gathering, including of introduced species like deer and trout, are important activities undertaken by many thousands of New Zealanders. Policy should be focussed on how we best manage the impacts of game animals to achieve improved conservation outcomes and maximise their resource, community and cultural value.

ACT recognises that the use of vertebrate toxic agents like 1080 for the control of pests in our natural environment is both a controversial and emotive topic for hunters, animal welfare groups, conservationists and the general public. ACT also recognises the significant threat pests like rats, mice, possums and mustelids pose to our native flora and fauna and our agriculture sector.

1080 is currently the main tool for controlling pests and that the use of 1080 in some remote high country and very isolated areas may be unavoidable. But in areas where there is relatively easy access for hunting, ACT believes that alternatives targeted to particular pests using innovative technologies should be sought where possible. We support funding research into 1080 alternatives through Predator Free 2050, including trapping innovations, non-toxic alternatives and deer repellent. This has to include allowing new technologies, including genetic technologies.

Significant Natural Areas

Conservation and biodiversity on private land bring significant benefit to the wider community. However, significant natural areas (SNAs) impose significant burdens on landowners and undermines property rights, who are no longer able to make full use of their own land. However, the Government’s approach to SNAs has instead chosen to load all of those costs onto landowners without support or compensation. In some cases, these restrictions have ended their ability to productively use their land. Maori land owners have noted the striking resemblance of these restrictions to previous land grabs by the Crown.

Labour’s approach to conservation on private land is also counter-productive. The incentive is to destroy trees just before regenerating bush is captured by the SNA bureaucracy. Similarly, if you fear your land being listed as a significant natural area, you might do your best never to plant native trees and to destroy any place where a native species could be found.

However, across New Zealand there are already models that are working effectively, usually as partnerships between local government, farmers and tangata whenua, such as the QEII Trust or the Kaipara Moana Remediation Programme. These are win-wins, where land owners are able to protect natural areas and preserving their property rights, while the public gain from preservation of natural areas which allow native plant and bird life to flourish. ACT will build on this.

ACT will establish a fund available for local government and trusts such as QEII Trust to allow covenants with landowners to ensure critical wetlands and areas of indigenous bush are protected. Ownership of the land can remain with the landowner, who is also responsible for stock exclusion and pest management, but with financial support from the fund.

Jobs for Nature

Jobs for Nature is a $1.2 billion programme dreamed up at the height of Covid to provide urgent employment for laid-off workers. By 2021 it was obvious the programme wasn’t needed. In a good example of bureaucratic behaviour, instead of ending the extremely expensive programme, it was repurposed as a conservation programme. As a result, the Government has spent $1.19 billion funding for 7,102,577 hours work - at an average cost $167.50 per hour worked. There is “no specific requirement for all projects to undertake cost benefit analysis”. The biggest beneficiaries have been consultants, who have received $72 million.

The programme is to be phased down and non-performing grants terminated, but officials are wanting aspects of it to be continued. ACT will completely disestablish the programme. If there are specific high performing conservation projects, then those projects must be assessed on their own merits, and subject to a rigorous analysis of the public interest and a cost-benefit analysis.

Stewardship Land

About 2.7 million hectares (9 percent) of New Zealand's land area is stewardship land, part of the public conservation land allocated to DOC in 1987 that does not hold specific protection. The Government in 2021 began a process for reclassifying stewardship land. Like Labour’s other programmes, it has proceeded at glacial pace, and been subject to extensive input from iwi claiming special rights. The proceedings of the panels to reclassify the land must be fully transparent to the public.

The ecological, cultural, historic, landscape and recreational values, and proposed management and use of the land by the public, must be considered in deciding to reclassify the land. However, little regard has been taken of the economic potential of the land, and local government has effectively been left out. ACT will ensure that when there is consideration of stewardship land in the North Island that panels include local representation, and that panels must have at least one member who has technical expertise in undertaking economic valuation of land.

Disposal of the stewardship land should aim to provide certainty of the land’s title, such as vesting the land where there are strong conservation values of the land under a higher category of conservation land (such as Conservation Park) under DOC, to the local government for economic development, or to Maori where there are unextinguished customary interests.

Economic use of public conservation land

ACT is committed to the absolute preservation of National Parks.

ACT recognises that “Current and projected funding will not be enough to stop pests wiping out much of our unique biodiversity. Commercial use (including mining) of public conservation land offers an opportunity to address some of that funding shortfall.’’ (Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment). The greatest threat to New Zealand’s unique biodiversity on public conservation land is not mining but introduced pests, both plants and animals. For this reason, ACT supports economic development on public land excluding National Parks if that development results in a net environmental benefit.

In consideration of applications for economic activity, the ecological, cultural, historic, landscape and recreational values, as well as the economic benefits to the local community and the New Zealand public, must be considered. ACT also has three bottom lines. First, economic activity on land where there is critically endangered species in a unique ecosystem is not permitted. Second, there must be a net environment benefit – that is, any environmental damage must be outweighed by environmental gain – for instance, an area of land at least greater than the area of economic activity is remediated, has pest control, and is placed into public conservation land. And third, there must be rehabilitation of the land to its natural state after its use.