No silver lining in grey budget

03 Jun 2011

By Conservation Advocate Quentin Duthie

Each year Forest & Bird anxiously awaits the government budget. Last decade, the Budget regularly heralded improvements to conservation funding.

The Department of Conservation’s operating budget increased from $185 million in 1998/1999 to $363 million in 2008/9, a 55 percent increase over the decade in real terms.

Such increases were never adequate to arrest biodiversity decline, but were
improvements nonetheless.

Since the change in government and the global economic crisis in 2008, funding has declined. The 2009 budget contained a massive cut of $54 million over four years: DOC’s budget is now about $330 million.

The 2010 and 2011 budgets have retained the cuts, inevitably eating into the amount of work DOC can do. And further cuts loom.

Forest & Bird is acutely aware that government funds are tight and care is required.

However, if conservation spending is an investment – and one that creates a handsome return by supporting the natural systems that are critical to our economy and international branding – then lack of funding for conservation degrades the value and return of that investment for everyone.

Media reports in May that 150 jobs at DOC may go, including science and
technical staff, show the pressure the department is under to adjust to its reduced funding.

The 2011 Budget gives further hints about the real effects of the budget cuts, as DOC runs out of ways to improve efficiency and resorts to scaling back effort.

• The fund for purchasing reserve land drops from $12 million to just
$1.5 million
• There is no increase in funds for Regional Pest Management
Strategies despite a recent Biosecurity Act change that requires
DOC to adhere to RPMS at great expense
• The area of New Zealand under sustained possum control drops by
30,000 hectares
• No new marine reserves are anticipated in 2011/12 despite the
West Coast Marine Protection Forum recommendations for four new
reserves currently before the minister.

In addition there is a sting in the tail of the 2011 Budget. The government has indicated that a further $300 million a year will need to be found across the public service and DOC may be required to contribute, further cutting its funds as inflation rises.

The challenge for all parties is to find the necessary funds to ensure that conservation is treated as an investment. If we don’t, then it is our heritage, and our economy, that will suffer in the long run.