Marrying conservation and commerce

06 Jul 2012

Business and conservation have mostly been at loggerheads in the past but this must change if we are to secure a healthy environment and future prosperity, the annual conference was told.

One thing that must go is the orthodox economic thinking that says we can only look after the environment after taking care of the economy fi rst, along with the traditional view of what conservation means, Department of Conservation Director-General Al Morrison said.

“Conservationists have to challenge the thinking that got us in this mess. The alternative is to go on constructing fences around some small areas to protect a few species and ecosystems for future generations to peer at and wonder what New Zealand would be like if we hadn’t messed up.”

In 2005 it became clear to DOC that it could not halt the decline in New Zealand’s biodiversity, even if its budget was greatly increased, and
that it needed to grow conservation by forming partnerships with iwi, the community, local government, private landowners, and business.

“The very real concerns of climate change, the loss and degradation of ecosystems and biodiversity, and pressures of a burgeoning population
create an ethical imperative for conservationists to lead across a much broader front and redefine what conservation success means,” he said.

Conservationists need to be encouraging of good sustainable development, and that sometimes means being prepared to give up some
things to make better gains elsewhere.

“We still do have a chance to put things right. We need to confront the economic orthodoxy that is standing in the way and reassert nature in the
engine room of the economy.

“We need to show others that living in harmony with nature is necessary if we are to thrive as a truly prosperous nation. To do all that, we have to
confront our own thinking, attitudes and approaches,” he said.

Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment Jan Wright told the conference that commercial exploitation of some areas in the conservation estate could help pay for vital work such as controlling rats, possums and stoats.

This predator control work is currently carried out on just an eighth of the conservation estate.

These trade-offs would be worthwhile if there was a real benefit for conservation, she said. She welcomed the decision of Meridian Energy to withdraw its planned hydro dam on the Mokihinui River, saying Meridian's planned pest control work in the Mokihinui catchment was not enough to offset the damage the dam would cause.

But she added as an example, that if Meridian had promised to carry out pest control work over the entire South
Island in perpetuity in return for the dam, the trade-off would have been worthwhile in her view.