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National’s proposed conservation cuts to aid economic recovery is ‘ridiculous’

17 October, 2023

Interview by Rawan Saadhi, adapted by Joel Armstrong

Chief Executive Officer of the World Wildlife Foundation (WWF) New Zealand, Kayla Kingdon-Bebb, says planned cuts to Aotearoa's main conservation agency are counterproductive to National's goal to use the tourism industry to support economic recovery. Image: Hooker Valley, Aoraki (Mount Cook) — Wikimedia Commons

Prior to the election, the National Party pledged to cut funding to the Department of Conservation (DOC) by 6.5%.

DOC is in charge of managing 800 million hectares of land; a third of all land in Aotearoa, 4.5 million hectares of water — including 52 marine reserves and sanctuaries, 220 large islands and hundreds of smaller islands and rock stacks, over 14,000 native species, almost 22,000 visitor assets such as bridges, 15,000 kilometres of track, 950 huts, 300 campsites, and over 15,000 heritage sites.

Currently, DOC receives less than 1% of the country’s GDP annually, which is around $500 million.

In its election campaign, National highlighted that one of its priorities would be rejuvenating the tourism industry to support economic recovery.

Chief Executive Officer of the World Wildlife Foundation (WWF) New Zealand, Kayla Kingdon-Bebb, told 95bFM’s The Wire, that making budget cuts to the DOC is “ridiculous”, as Aotearoa’s leading driver of tourism is its natural landscape.

“Our economy depends on nature, whether it is tourism or agriculture.”

National has promised to upgrade the 80km Waiau-Toa/Molesworth walking track in Canterbury in hopes it would become Aotearoa's 11th great walk. 

But Kingdon-Bebb said this would not help financially support the DOC.

“I think it is interesting that National has pledged to create another great walk, which the department does not make any money on.”

She believes budget cuts would hinder the tourism industry, rather than improve the sector's economic output.

“Cutting the budget is going to undermine the amount of New Zealanders and international visitors that can enjoy these assets and access our nature.”

“Our strong view is that it is not the time to be cutting these essential services.”

Kingdon-Bebb said that not addressing the climate crisis now will be more of an economic burden for Aotearoa in coming years and leave future generations worse off.

“The cost of addressing climate change and natural loss is high. Globally, it is in the trillions of dollars. But the longer we leave it, the more expensive it is going to be.”

“The longer we kick the can down the road in meaningfully addressing climate change, mitigation, and adaptation, and also turning the tide on our declining biodiversity, we are going to be impoverishing future generations globally.”

Listen to the full interview

Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air