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Dr Muriel Newman

Saving the Kiwi

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19 November 05

Saving the Kiwi

The green agenda in this country has already been won. Not the radical agenda of green politics, which has embraced socialism as its new cause, but a sensible and moderate approach to conservation and environmental protection.

That is why the warnings of the Department of Conservation (DOC) that the kiwi is headed for extinction, fills New Zealanders with such a sense of dismay. We do not want to be the generation who sat on their hands while the kiwi dies out.

Scientists have estimated that 12 million kiwi used to live in New Zealand. By 1920 kiwi populations had dropped to around 5 million birds. But today it is estimated that only 50,000 to 70,000 remain. With the population disappearing at a rate of 6 percent a year, at the current rate, kiwi could be extinct on the mainland in about fifteen years.

Most kiwis live in forest areas that are controlled by DOC. While countries generally aspire to having around 10 percent of their landmass under conservation management, here in New Zealand, almost a half of all of our land area is under the stewardship of DOC. That not only includes land and resources historically owned by the Crown along with more recent acquisitions, but also private land “acquired” through the Resource Management Act.

Owen McShane of the Centre for Resource Management Studies (a guest contributor in this week’s Forum (view ) has done an outstanding job of identifying problems associated with New Zealand’s resource management systems. A study he commissioned, “The Role of the Department of Conservation and the Need for Change” by John Third provides an excellent analysis of why DOC, under the present structure and function, can never succeed in fulfilling its conservation objectives. It may be viewed on the Centre for Resource Management website (view ).

Effectively, DOC has monopoly control over New Zealand’s native wildlife conservation efforts. That means that private landowners who want to play their part in protecting our endangered species more often than not, face major hurdles.

Roger Beattie and his wife are a case in point. Back in 1994 they erected a predator proof fence around 20 hectares of native forest on their Banks Peninsula farm. They wanted to establish a breeding programme for the eastern buff weka, which, while it had become extinct on the mainland, was so abundant on the Chatham Islands, that DOC was culling and killing hundreds of birds on an annual basis.

Roger has outlined his saga for NZCPD readers (to view). While he was successful in the end, it was only because of his extraordinary perseverance. Sadly, individuals up and down the country who have tried to establish private conservation ventures have had similar experiences and walked away. It wouldn’t be so bad, if DOC was successfully halting the decline of our endangered species, but the problem is that they are not.

In his paper about DOC, John Third puts it this way: “DOC management failures are legendary, ranging from the Cave Creek platform collapse, to the death of rare and endangered kakapo because the Department was so focussed on PR that they allowed dirty gumboots from pig farms to transfer infectious bacterium to kakapo enclosures in Fiordland.

“Other examples include releasing cage reared blue ducks into the wild in mid winter. This is a time when food stocks are at their lowest. This low level of available food had been further reduced where 1080 poison run-off had wiped out the invertebrate biota in the streams where their food is derived. Not surprisingly all perished, weighed down as they were with radio transmitters”.

Even Robert and Robyn Webb, who have operated their highly acclaimed Whangarei Native Bird Recovery Centre for 11 years, have had constant battles with DOC. Yet, they have established an excellent track record, having hatched and released 120 kiwi chicks, banded and released 650 wood pigeons, nursed back to health literally tens of thousands of injured birds, and, using ‘Snoopy’ their 13-year-old one-legged kiwi (which DOC originally ordered to be destroyed), have educated more than 5,000 children a year about the kiwi and other native birds. The Centre’s latest kiwi egg can be seen in its incubator on the web (to view egg cam ) … If you are lucky with your timing, you might even see it hatching!

More and more people are recognising that DOC with its mix of roles and too much land to look after, is failing in its duty to protect our endangered species. While it will take major changes to turn the situation around, the following three would make a good start.

Firstly, the DOC estate should be reduced so it consists only of land of high conservation value. The problem is that during the restructuring of the eighties, DOC became the repository for left over Crown land. That has resulted in the bizarre situation where full conservation values are applied equally by the department to abandoned rubbish dumps and pristine national parks!

Secondly, DOC’s role should be operational only, focussed on pro-actively managing the conservation estate and protecting our native species. If their advocacy responsibilities are removed, DOC could then apply itself to finding better solutions to some of the major conservation challenges it faces such as finding more environmentally friendly ways of controlling possums than using the massive drops of 1080 poison, which according to the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, make New Zealand the largest user of 1080 in the world (notes on this and other conservation topics can be found in the excellent book by Peter Hartley, “Conservation Strategies for New Zealand”).

And thirdly, the government needs to recognise that DOC on its own cannot save the kiwi and other endangered species. It will take the energy, commitment and effort of hundreds of thousands of private landowners up and down the country, encouraged to play their part in a massive national conservation effort – eradicating pests, predator proofing their properties, planting native trees and other wildlife food sources, and obtaining and releasing endangered species for breeding purposes – to save them from extinction.

This weeks poll. Do you believe more encouragement needs to be given to private conservation efforts? To take part in our online poll

Take some able unemployed peopleand give them a fantastic work experience helping protect our environment. (23 Nov 05) I think it would help if there was more information available on the process of developing private conservation areas. I dont think it is fair to blame DOC every time bad things happen. We are all responsible for our native flora and fauna and blaming one organisation is just a way of taking blame off ourselves. Maybe if more people tried to help them, instead of moaning at them, they would get a LOT more done. (23 Nov 05)

Mentors’ might be available to advise land owners if needed, in a similar manner as has been introduced for business start-ups. Rural owners of cats and dogs could be ‘encouraged’ to create places where their animals can roam without causing havoc among the local wildlife and stricter penalties imposed on owners of wandering animals. (23 Nov 05) The Department of Conservation needs to be stripped of its advocacy responsibilities and more effort put into protecting endangered species. The laws regarding the holding of protected species by public institutions also need to be revised – far too restrictive at present and too much emphasis placed on paper work. (23 Nov 05)

Let private volunteer organisations manage some DOC owned land for their own conservation projects. (23 Nov 05)

Government should encourage more projects on the line of the Karori sanctuary, which drew its inspiration from Tiritiri Matangi. (21 Nov 05)

Redirect aerial 1080 baiting expenditure to subsidised predator fencing and endangered species release. (21 Nov 05)

The holding of such wide ranging power by a single entity (DoC) is clearly unsustainable in terms of the future management of NZ natural resources for all NZer’s, particularly as they are a law unto themselves. (21 Nov 05)

Get rid of all the red tape that hinders people’s efforts. (21 Nov 05)

The conservation fund should be available to private practitioners just as it is to DOC – applications through a neutral body to determine the allocation.

(21 Nov 05)

Orana Park – or Willowbank – not sure which one – wanted to release some of their kiwi stock into the wild. DOC wouldn’t let them – because the kiwis has cross-bred – therefore the resultant off-spring would have a mixed DNA record… and could dilute specie differentiation in the wild lot. Yeah, right…. one slightly different DNA-mix kiwi or three would distort an entire specie in the wild? If they survived – and of cross-bred parentage it is possible they may not – then they would serve to strengthen the variation of DNA within the various species (or sub-species). (20 Nov 05)

Isuggest that you have a closer look at DOC’s pest eradication poisoning. It has been suggested by several people I know who hunt and tramp that the poison drops also kill Kiwis and other native birds. In bush areas where poisoning has taken place you hardly hear a bird song now, yet in areas such as the Catlins where this has not taken place, the bird songs are almost deafening with so many varieties of birds singing. Our native bush anywhere in the both Islands used to be absolute alive with bird noise – this has now disappeared under DOC’s administration. Food for thought. (20 Nov 05)

If DOC stopped aerial dropping 1080 poison everywhere,they might stop poisoning the few remaining kiwi in the wild. I find it extremely hypocritical of the dept to make a great who-ha about raising x number of kiwi in captivity and totally ignoring the kiwi (and other native species) that they kill with their innumerable 1080 aerial drops! (20 Nov 05)

I believe we do have an important part in restoring Kiwi numbers, and private freedom to do this is a very good option, but I don’t think we have every really addressed the real issue of why Kiwi number continue to decline. While there are some things that don’t help – like less habitat, more people, and other predators – I believe history will reveal that the main cause of the kiwi decline is 1080. I once asked DOC to product an historical trend map of kiwi number decline overlaid with 1080 use over the same period (say since 1950). They never did. Now maybe not all the data is available, but I am sure enough is to do a comparisons. Maybe your forum has enough contacts to get such information?

Now I know this is not the only factor, but what I am saying is that I believe it is a significant factor, and more importantly, one we (DOC) have complete control over. Lets look at some indicative information; Kiwi numbers have reduced significantly while at the same time 1080 use has increased significantly; DOC never does 1080 drops on “inland islands” where they are trying to increase kiwi and other native bird populations (note that these areas also get a lot of publicity); 1080 has had proven impacts on other birds. You mentioned the Blue Duck release here as one example. Add these things up and you don’t need to be a rocket scientist to see there something that needs checking? Will your forum, as a group who may have some influence, take up the cause? (20 Nov 05)

I would say that conservation has become a god to many and is a centralised religion (and note the areas closed to the public – where the select few govt workers only are allowed. When the public are excluded their private support wanes). I have 20 ha. When I purchased it through a subdivision, the local council got the coastal 20m strip. Where once landowners would deal with pests and noxious weeds on that strip, it is now Council’s responsibility. As I’ve told them, they now have to maintain that land – which, of course, they don’t do as effectively as a private land owner. In the 12 years I’ve owned my block there has been one possum baiting and one gorse/blackberry treatment on the coastal strip – not followed up, so lots of regrowth. Like me, there must be many landowners who have no inclination to carry out conservation on public land for free. (20 Nov 05)

What you think could be done to encourage private conservation efforts:

Encouraging good, sensible private individuals in every way. Maybe it will take some of the funds already going to DOC to be redirected to these people. Also, successful ventures should be well publicised – a TV programme would be a good start, as well as magazine articles (NZ Woman’s Weekly?).

A DOC team specifically established for liaison with property owners.

Encourage private breeding programmes

For pest animal control put bounties on possums, weasels, ferrets, rats magpies, red deer etc, seasonal/non seasonal workers would tender blocks and make a living out of trapping, shooting and poisoning. They would work with their local environment people for recording and reporting. Has worked in the past successfully.

Definitely allow private landowners to establish conservation areas (under their personal control – but in accordance with guidelines), so that DOC effectively have a multitude of small conservation reserves from which they can draw local management experience. I do not believe in DOC’s current role as the guardians of our native flora and fauna.

Allow private citizens to breed and keep indigenous birds – not only would people take more interest, we would also become more educated about them.

To encourage the planting and conserving of native trees, and to permit the culling where necessary instead of the absolutely nutty present system of keeping all trees no matter what. Also to pay land owners to predator proof sections of land containing endangered species. All expenses relating to the maintenance such work must be entirely tax deductible.

Private interested landowners that already have modest kiwi numbers on their properties are in the best position to enhance kiwi numbers. I used to be such a landowner with kiwi on my property with native bush which I had fenced off from stock. The next step could easily have been to put in place a fence to keep out vermin and or dogs. A little encouragement would have done the trick.

People should be encouraged and permitted to keep Kiwis and other endangered species as pets. Why not a kiwi instead of a cat?

Have a Commission not necessarily outside DOC, but independent from it’s operations arm, that will establish criteria for where conservation efforts are required, prioritise them, and make them apply to DOC as well as private enterprise, so that the same rules apply to all and decisions are transparent and contestable. Govt funding could be available to private enterprise proposals that are judged better than those of DOC.

Scrap the Conservation Act 1987.

Let landowners have control over their land and make DoC less powerful in all they do. They now want to have control over the marine environment when they can’t even look after the land. Look at what is happening to Gt Barrier Island and the proposed marine reserve. The DoC land out there is a disgrace.

Remove restrictions on land use in return for achieving negotiated conservation targets.

First, liase with private landowners to find out their aims and encourage and help them achieve a suitable programme, and secondly, provide tax relief to approved private conservationists.

Set up a website where those involved in private conservation can post helpful information. People who are interested in helping can go there for hints, or find out what they can do, and those requesting help can post notices there. There must be many Kiwis who would like to participate in many small ways, perhaps as a means of educating their children, or just doing their bit to assist.

I agree that DOC does not have the resources to cover the whole of NZ, and perhaps recognition could be in the form of assistance to schools in a role for their particular area, local bodies under a separate committee, and those voluntary organisations should get some more recognition and financial assistance.

More involvement of Forest and Bird Protection Society; full input from museum and university experts; establishment of an expert committee to evaluate private conservation initiatives, and grant funds to assist them; tax breaks where private individuals have reserved land and resources for such initiatives.

DOC should not have authority to interfere or control private schemes, unless they are blatantly exploiting native species for financial gain etc. Even if they are not as well set up as DOC thinks, it is better to let landowners do their own thing. It is still a step in the right direction rather than turning the area into grass or letting it revert back to scrub for example.

Less control freaks in the Govt would be a start … funding private charitable trusts run by well-known businessmen would be another.

Freedom to own and manage native animals and plants in a habitat context on your own land.

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