The value of engaging with DoC

For those of us in New Zealand who enjoy Outdoor recreation, either on a personal or professional level, the Department of Conservation plays an incredibly important role.

DoC manages one third of New Zealand Land mass and they are taking on more by way of tenure review. They spend $150m every year on recreational facilities and services. The Auckland City Council is the only entity in New Zealand that spends more on recreation.
At NZRA we know from our surveys, that our members and stakeholders utilise Public Conservation Land regularly.

DoC has a tough task balancing the interests of everyone. Conservation is their core purpose, but the department also has a legal obligation to foster recreation and allow for tourism. On balance, they do a pretty good job. One reason for their success, or at least minimal failure, is the extent to which the departments consults with the community and stakeholders.

Most Kiwis are blissfully unaware that Doc manages the Public Conservation land in accordance with incredibly detailed documents. But in fact, these documents dictate just about everything you can or cannot do on public Conservation Land. They determine where huts and tracks go and to what standard they will be maintained. They dictate which user groups will be catered for and where. They dictate the extent to which commercial and educational concession holders can gain access and why.

On a quasi-provincial level these are called Conservation Management Strategies. Individual National Parks have National Park Management Plans. These documents are supposed to be revised every 10 years or so, but that is usually stretched out to 15 years and in some cases twenty. So, when DoC asks for input into their formulation, it is important that everyone concerned gets involved.

We are amidst a 5-year flurry of DoC planning at the moment. The ink is barely dry on the Canterbury-Aoraki CMS and the Wellington CMS has been drafted. The Paparoa National Park Management Plan was hurried through the process last year. The department is currently consulting on the Aoraki Mount Cook and Westland Tai Poutini national park management plans. Next off the rank are the Fiordland and Aspiring National Parks. On top of that, there are numerous partial reviews – where tweaks are made to an existing plan as an interim stop-gap – Tongariro and Kauhurangi National Parks for example.

NZRA takes its advocacy role in these matters very seriously. It has been pleasing that the Department has afforded NZRA, alongside a select group, to contributes its thinking prior to the formulation of draft plans and the open public consultation. This is an admirabkle tweak to the process and we are happy to be involved at the earliest stages.

The interests of conservation and commercial tourism are very well represented in the planning process. It is important that NZRA makes an effort to advocate on behalf of the recreational community. We provide an important voice and balance. It is a lot of effort that often goes unnoticed, but even in the last 12 months our efforts have contributed to some very significant gains for the recreational community.

The use of fixed anchors for rock climbing, caving or canyoning is an issue that DoC has struggled to get its head around. The draft Paparoa National Park Management Plan proposes unworkable and restrictive policies. Working alongside our friends at the New Zealand Alpine Club, New Zealand Speleological Society and the New Zealand Canyoning Association, NZRA opposed the draft policies and submitted much more workable and reasonable alternatives. We were very pleased that they were largely taken up. Similarly, the draft proposed restricting certain caves to recreational cavers. Our objection to those restriction was noticed and ultimately reversed in the final plan. In the same process, we advocated for further investment in the inland pack track and noted some concerns we have about the proposed Pike 29 Great Walk.

Last year the Kahurangi National Park Management Plan underwent a partial review, in order to consider an extension to the period in which the Heaphy Track can be utilised by Mountain bikers. Our submission to that process is here. NZRA advocated for the mountain biking season to be extended and we were glad that it was.

It is pretty easy to sit around a campfire or in a DoC hut and have a grizzle about what DoC does or doesn’t do – but also pretty ineffectual. Much harder, but much more worthwhile, is taking the time to engage with the DoC planning staff, contribute to the draft plans, write submissions and appear at the in-person hearings. NZRA is more than happy to do this on your behalf and is satisfied it is worthwhile.

Of course, we are always keen to hear your input and feedback. So don’t be afraid to get in touch.

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