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DOC Biodiversity Strategy – Expert Reaction

The Department of Conservation (DOC) is developing a new biodiversity strategy which sets out how it hopes to protect and grow our native ecosystems over the next 50 years.

The new strategy will replace Our Chance to Turn the Tide, the current biodiversity strategy that has been in place since 2002. The discussion document envisions that by 2070 we will see nature flourish with healthy and functioning ecosystems across land, water and sea.

By 2025, DOC hopes to halt wetland decline, have all biodiversity areas mapped, and have threats from climate change integrated into species management plans.

By 2050, DOC aspires to turn the tide on declining native ecosystems and see rare habitats like wetlands, sand dunes, braided rivers and cloud forests grow. The middle of the century is also when New Zealand will aim to be free from stoats, possums and rats, have zero fishing bycatch and reverse the decline of our threatened species.

The SMC gathered expert comments on the proposed strategy, feel free to use these comments in your reporting. 

Dr Carolyn Lundquist, Principal Scientist, Marine Ecology, NIWA, comments:

“This discussion document is aspirational, and reflects the urgency upon which New Zealand must act to halt – and reverse – the decline in biodiversity.

“The new biodiversity strategy will acknowledge the links between biodiversity and health, food security, and material wealth, as well as the value of nature-based solutions to climate change such as the value of our forests for carbon storage and the role of coastal habitats for protection from storms and flooding. Nature encompasses the diverse and beautiful plants and animals that make New Zealand unique – but our biodiversity also supports Te Koiora – the processes that support life on earth. Importantly, nature is the backbone of New Zealand’s brand – our clean and green image that our economy depends on.

“The strategy is based on a new and proactive way of thinking about nature, one where we ask ‘how do we fit into nature?’ rather than ‘how does nature fit with us?’ These reflect international aspirations of living in harmony with nature, as well as a more familiar concept of kaitiakitanga, the role of humans in safeguarding nature – not just for ourselves and what we get out of nature, but for nature itself.

“Our values for nature are context-dependent – New Zealanders value both native and non-native species. The new strategy must directly address controversial issues such as the conflicts between non-indigenous species, such as those valued for hunting and fishing, and our native biodiversity. We need to come up with a balanced approach, but recognise that, first and foremost, we do have a duty of care to protect New Zealand’s own biodiversity. The strategy will not be successful unless we develop strategies to protect nature on private lands and in urban settings, working with landowners, industry and recreational users to come up with innovative win-wins that recognise that thriving nature underpins New Zealand’s economic success and wellbeing.

“Governance of biodiversity is challenging with a multitude of laws and acts governing the use of land and oceans, and the challenge of coordinating from local to regional to national scales. The biodiversity strategy can learn from efforts such as that of the Sustainable Seas National Science Challenge in drafting an Aotearoa Cumulative Effects framework, recognising that we need a ki uta ki tai framework that connects from the mountains to the sea.

“The strategy requires significant investment in science and knowledge, committing targeted funds to achieve these aspirational goals. Investing in nature is investing in the mauri of all New Zealanders.”

Conflict of interest statement: NIWA does receive regular funding from central government including the Department of Conservation to provide the science and knowledge that will inform implementation of the new biodiversity strategy.

Tame Malcolm (Iwi: Te Arawa), Operations Manager at Te Tira Whakamātaki, Māori Biosecurity Network.

“Overall this discussion document provides a good basis for the development of a new biodiversity strategy.

“However, in my opinion, it doesn’t go far enough to clearly outline the partnership central (and local) government need to have with iwi to effectively develop and implement a biodiversity strategy. This is all the more important for DOC given the recent Ngai Tai decision.

“The mention of the iwi environmental plans is great because they often get overlooked.”

No conflict of interest.

Professor Mark Costello, School of Environment, University of Auckland, comments:

“It is great to see this conversation underway. The two topics I feel need more space are (1) how research to underpin both national and international commitments will be funded, (2) establishment of a national data infrastructure for nature related data collection and publication to inform policy and action.

“This Discussion document is timely as society, especially the younger generation, want to do more to prevent the loss of biodiversity. It rightly emphasises the need to learn from the fundamental Māori tikanga. These ways of thinking may seem new to modern society, but are rather ancient wisdom about how people lived with nature for millennia. We need to return to these fundamentals to help restore biodiversity and prevent further loss that will impoverish future generations.

“The document summarises how our economy and wealth is generated from biodiversity, both the introduced species that dominate agriculture, and native species harvested by fisheries and aquaculture. While much of our economy is based on introduced species (think dairy, lamb, wine, kiwi fruit), it also recognises the loss of native biodiversity from introduced predators and the need for their removal.

“It notes the need to stop polluting freshwaters and reduce over-fishing and by-catch in fisheries. It could have added the need to eliminate seabed trawling because it deliberately destroys marine habitat. There needs to be a carrot and stick approach to move our fisheries to more selective fishing methods to eliminate the collateral damage of by-catch and habitat destruction.

“It did not specifically mention that our freshwaters have the highest proportion of species threatened with extinction, although the highest number of threatened species live on land. Actions to restore our rivers and lakes will have positive feedback to the health of nature on land and in coastal seas, and water quality for human use.

“Advice to government needs to be based on evidence. What I missed in the report was how we are going to quantify the state of nature’s health, and its trends. Without these basic data we will not be able to accurately inform society of what the situation is, and predict the consequences of inaction. There needs to be a standardised approach to data management, from routine collection of data on the abundance of species and habitat cover, to data being published in open-access databases.

“Examples include the Global Biodiversity Information Facility and Ocean Biogeographic Information System. Neither database is mentioned in the document (NIWA have been doing an excellent job in making marine data freely available through OBIS). The standards, tools and expertise for such a well-organised data system exist, but so far it has lacked a firm government commitment to make it happen.

“New Zealand has been a leader in both GBIF and OBIS, as well as being a strong voice in other international biodiversity-related initiatives, such as the Convention on Biological DiversityInternational Panel on Climate Change, and International Panel on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services. However, our national research programmes do not prioritise funding that contributes to such international initiatives. Thus, we spend taxpayer money on staff time and travel to meetings overseas but not on the research that provides the facts and figures to support the discussions in these international fora. We need to do more than talk.

“Due to the current increasing pace of climate change, monitoring data need to be collected nationwide in all environments (land, river, lake, marine, natural, urban and agricultural) annually. An integrated approach including rapid data publication (within days to weeks of collection) would enable synergies of data analysis and be most cost-efficient. For example, if a change in a species location was due to local (e.g. habitat loss) or regional (e.g., climate) factors.”

No conflict of interest.

Bill Lee, conservation ecologist, Manaaki Whenua Landcare Research, comments:

“The current Biodiversity Strategy (2000) for New Zealand (Our Chance to Turn the Tide) has failed to improve the outlook for indigenous biodiversity in terrestrial and marine environments. It was unsuccessful in improving policy and actions at national and regional levels of government. A refresh is long overdue if we are to better protect the species and ecosystem services we value and require.

Te Koiroa O Te Koiora – Our shared vision for living with nature, provides a new vision of nature, identifies major system changes, and establishes decadal goals to guide actions over the next 50 years that will restore and protect indigenous biodiversity. The document is designed to attract public comment, but does it contain an effective mix of actions?

“Communities, indigenous culture, consistent objectives across agencies, and larger incentives are rightly identified as central to achieving biodiversity objectives. However, apart from Predator Free 2050, to be successful the document needs to identify the priority actions required to sustain indigenous biodiversity, particularly in lowland, urban, estuarine and coastal environments where the loss has been greatest. It emphasises how we should operate, but should also focus on what we need to do, in order to enable those seeking clear goals. The vision of nature presented should focus on the immediate challenges faced by native biodiversity in a clear biodiversity framework.

“Hopefully these will be clarified through the public consultation process.”

No conflict of interest.

Associate Professor Tammy Steeves, University of Canterbury, comments:

“As a discussion document intended to solicit feedback to inform the development of a new biodiversity strategy for Aotearoa New Zealand, Te Koiroa o Te Koiorarepresents a work in progress.

“As such, it includes a few gems – like the clear acknowledgement there is considerable room for improvement in the legal and regulatory frameworks for protecting biodiversity, which are currently not achieving enough.

“It is particularly refreshing to see freshwater policy reform as an immediate priority action under the ‘Getting the System Right’ System Shift, since current legal and regulatory frameworks are failing our most critically endangered freshwater fish and invertebrates.

“Having said this, there are too many places in Te Koiroa o Te Koiora that fail to reference freshwater at all (see ample references exclusive to land and sea, including landscapes and seascapes).

“As well, there are a few diamonds in the rough. The strong focus on protecting and restoring healthy ecosystems across a broad range of habitats throughout the document is laudable.

“However, as a conservation geneticist privileged to work with some of Aotearoa New Zealand’s most threatened species, I am uneasy about the potential for an either/or showdown between ecosystem resilience and species recovery. I fear if we focus on one, at the expense of the other, we may lose both. So, when it comes to securing Aotearoa New Zealand’s biological heritage, rather than adopting a “yes, but…” approach, I suggest we need to prioritise a “yes, and…” approach.

“It also contains some baffling missed opportunities. Given the role of genetics and genomics in enhancing the recovery of Aotearoa New Zealand’s most threatened taonga species – and the intense interest in the genomics of taonga species both here in Aotearoa and overseas – I am disappointed the third objective of the Convention on Biological Diversity (namely, the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising out of the utilisation of genetic resources) was ignored. New Zeland is a non-signatory of the Nagoya Protocol though many argue that we should be.

“Related to this, I am eager to see Wai 262 better integrated in the new biodiversity strategy. Statements like: ‘The Crown’s discussions with Māori over Wai 262 issues will address many aspects of biodiversity management.’ indicate that we have a long way to go.”

Conflict of interest statement: As a conservation geneticist, I routinely partner with the Department of Conservation to co-develop conservation genetic management recommendations. I am a member of, or advisor to, several recovery groups for some of Aotearoa New Zealand’s most threatened birds.