New Zealand Conservation Authority meeting June 2022
The Authority held its first in person meeting of the year at Conservation House in Wellington on 16 and 17 June 2022. The meeting agenda covered a variety of conservation topics, some of which have not appeared before the Authority in a long time. Members engaged extensively with Department staff and external parties throughout these sessions, resulting in a very productive meeting overall.
The Authority continues to focus on developing its skills and knowledge base in order to provide quality advice to the Minister and the Department, acknowledging that it will have a crucial role to play in the coming months, particularly in regard to Conservation Law Reform and Stewardship Land Reclassification, as well as a range of other conservation topics.
Incoming Minister of Conservation – Hon Poto Williams
As most of you have heard, there has been a change in Minister of Conservation with Hon Kiri Allan taking on the justice portfolio and Hon Poto Williams has picked up the conservation portfolio. Before the Authority’s June meeting I had a brief exchange with Minister Williams via text, to which she shared excitement to get involved with conservation saying, “looking forward to working with you”. The Authority has produced a Briefing for the Incoming Minister (BIM), which should bring the Minister up to speed on the role and duties of the Authority.
As Conservation Board Chairs, you will (hopefully) get a chance to meet and engage with our new Minister at the Conservation Board Chairs’ Conference in August. It was discussed during our meeting that the first meeting between the new Minister and Chairs will be important in establishing a working relationship.
Penny Nelson was away as part of Minister Allan’s post-budget conservation roadshow and was unable to be present at the meeting. Ginny Baddeley, Deputy Director-General People, was present to take the lead on updating the Authority on the Department’s Organisational Reset. Ginny explained to members the three phases in executing the reset, giving details on the work being done and what lies ahead. She emphasised that this is largely driven by Department staff who identified areas of improvements and Penny’s goal to make the Department improve its delivery of conservation outcomes and become an honourable Treaty partner. It was great to see that Penny is moving with pace on this and has clear goals to work towards.
The second part of this session was on the Department’s Role as a Regulator, and was led by Karl Beckert, Director Strategic Support, and his team. Members were informed of the work being done in implementing a programme change to improve the Department’s regulatory stewardship and delivery, and for the Authority to provide feedback along the way. The proposed changes will see a new framework put in place that focuses on te ao Māori and Māori investments to create a stronger regulatory culture, strategy, and identity for the Department. The Authority is very much looking forward to seeing how this work progresses and is eager to provide feedback where needed.
Professional Development workshop – Professor Jacinta Ruru
As part of the Authority’s effort to increase its capacity to advise on a number of conservation issues, and to be better informed around Te Tiriti principles within the conservation field, we invited Professor Jacinta Ruru from the University of Otago to run a workshop with members on her work around conservation law and tangata whenua. Jacinta’s work is focused around tikanga Māori and indigenous laws, specifically around their legal rights and interests, and responsibilities to care for, own, govern, and manage lands such as national parks and waterbodies.
This session was aimed at providing the Authority with the necessary information that would help in engaging on topics such as conservation law reform, stewardship land reclassification, the interface of conservation and section 4, and the partial review of the General Policy for National Parks. Members were fully engaged during this session and remarked on numerous occasions how relevant Jacinta’s information was to the Authority and its current work items.
Jacinta encouraged the Authority to push for mātauranga and better Treaty recognition within the Department, and left the Authority with three points to focus on going forward:
- Be brave to welcome hard conversations and move with momentum
- Conservation remains at the heart of it all
- Invest in improving skills around sciences and te ao Māori
Conservation Law Reform
This session saw members engage in discussion with the Department’s policy team on the timeline for the review of General Policies, specifically in regard to the General Policy for National Parks. Members were disappointed to learn that proper consideration was not given to the Authority and its role of approving the General Policy for National Parks, highlighting that the timeline produced, which will see the revised policies approved by March 2023, does not align with the Authority’s meeting cycle. The Authority holds its role as the ‘owners’ of the General Policy for National Parks very seriously and remains eager and open to work with Department on drafting the polices. Members are also looking forward to their meeting with the Minister Williams on this topic in late July.
Stewardship Land Reclassification update
Stewardship land was one of the big-ticket items on the Authority's agenda and resulted in extensive discussions. Present at the meeting, along with Department staff, were Francois Tumahai, Chair Mana Whenua Panel, and Neil Clifton, Chair National Panel for Western South Island, who informed the Authority on how their classification recommendations were reached.
We were informed that 14 different land classifications have been identified under the Conservation Act 1987, the National Parks Act 1980 and the Reserves Act 1977. Both Chairs mentioned how the two panels worked well together on most topics, whilst still disagreeing on a few others. What stood out during this session was the use of historical reserves by the panels as a way of protecting historical tracks, allowing for ecological protection and tangata whenua input. Francois Tumahai informed the Authority that Ngāi Tahu are holding off adding land parcels to national parks as the classification alienates mana whenua from their ancestral lands, particularly with regards to cultural practices and mahinga kai.
Members felt well informed as a result of the session and noted the Authority will need to run its own due diligence process as part of its role to advice the Minister on additions to national parks.
Prior to this meeting the Authority had not received an update on whitebait since 2018, and it was great to have Department staff provide information and engage in discussion with members. The Authority were advised that the Department is looking at ways to implement regulations on fishing practices and protections. Department staff informed members that whitebaiters are very reluctant to record their catch sizes, and aerial surveying methods have been adopted to monitor activity and gather information on types of gear. Whitebait remains an important topic for the Authority, and Tony Lepper stated that the Department needs to be smarter about how it communicates with the whitebait community, if they want cooperation in this area.
Back Country Trust
The Authority was excited to have members of the Back Country Trust attend the meeting and provide members with an update on work they have recently completed. The Trust members shared with the Authority that to date they have completed more than 400 projects, with around
$3 million invested into the field, and last year they completed 50 track restoration projects. The Authority enjoyed hearing about the great work community groups do in the conservation field and acknowledged that the work the Trust does in making the backcountry more accessible benefits the community at large, as well as Department rangers doing the groundwork.
Next meeting / Conclusion / Otago CMS
Finally, the meeting saw the Authority and the Otago Conservation Board share a milestone moment when the Authority approved the Otago Conservation Management Strategy, with an operative date of 1 July 2022. Lots of hard work, attention to detail and commitment went into producing the document, and those who contributed should be proud of their efforts.
The Authority farewelled Tony Lepper and Robyn Jebson as outgoing members whose terms expire on 30 June 2022, after both served 5-year terms on the Authority.
Our next meeting is scheduled to take place in Wellington at Conservation House on 18 and 19 August, with the Conservation Board Chairs’ Conference immediately afterwards on the weekend of 20 and 21 August 2022.
E noho ora mai
Edward Ellison ONZM