Jan Wright has released her penultimate report as Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment; this one is about ensuring our native birds can thrive on mainland New Zealand. Here are five things you need to know about the report.
1. Our Native Birds are in Trouble
You see a lot of good news stories in the media, but actually the picture is pretty bleak for our native species. Commissioner Wright has tried to simplify the threat classifications so that people can understand what is going on:
• Around one in five of our native bird species are doing okay;
• Half of them are in some trouble; and
• One third are in serious trouble.
2. They face very different issues
At a high level the major threats are predators, habitat loss, and lack of genetic diversity. But when you dig down into the issues like habitat, it becomes clear that these birds face very different problems.
New Zealand has a lot of species that live nowhere else. Commissioner Wright points out that we tend to think most about forest birds that live in our national parks, like the kakapo and kiwi. However, we also have many rare seabirds that are threatened by predators and fishing. There are also many species living on private land, particularly those on riverbeds and near the coasts. Saving all these species will require action from all of us, we can’t leave it just to the Department of Conservation.
3. There is no plan for Predator Free
The Government has invested some start up money in the Predator Free 2050 vision, but Commissioner Wright points out that we have no plan of how to get there as yet. The money the Government has invested is really to explore different options of what a plan could include to see which are the most viable. Commissioner Wright is arguing that we should have a plan to work to now, even if it needs to change to respond to new technology.
4. In the meantime, we are still losing birds
What good is it getting to a predator free country eventually if we could lose more species in the mean time? Commissioner Wright is pointing out that for the third of species that are seriously in trouble we need action now. The analogy she uses is that the Government is building a hospital (Predator Free 2050), but it is no good if the patient dies in the meantime.
The fact is that it is far more expensive if we wait until a species is in really deep trouble before we take action. Look at the black robin, kakapo and takahe for example. They are so rare that they need incredibly intensive and expensive intervention like hand rearing and IVF to save them. We need to prevent the one third of species that are in serious trouble getting to that stage because it will be impossible to save them all.
5. Saving our native species will cost $
The Government is consulting on a threatened species strategy, but as yet there is no money to implement it. Remember that one third of our species are in serious trouble, so saving them is likely to cost money. The only way to do that within current budgets would be to let takahe, kiwi and kakapo die out so that we can reinvest that money to save the rest - that is unlikely to fly.
The Budget invested in DOC infrastructure, but failed to invest in saving the species that all those visitors come here to see. That is why The Opportunities Party (TOP) is proposing a tourist levy of $20 to cover the cost of the extra conservation activity required. It seems that most political parties now back a tourist tax – with Labour, Greens, and United Future coming out in favour of one. Now Commissioner Wright has added her weight to the idea, pointing out that it is commonplace overseas. When will the Government catch on?