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One of the recurrent problems with conservation in New Zealand is few people really ‘get’ the scope of the problem and the amount of resources we actually put into halting species decline.

Consider the following map-

Now, about a third of this terrestrial area is allocated as conservation reserves. But when we start thinking about our conservation successes, most occur on an ecological scale that is truly insignificant.

The kakapo has recovered from a low point of some 50 birds to 120+ now, but Codfish Island is so small (it’s off Stewart Island at the bottom end), you can’t see it. Little Barrier Island and Tiritiri Matangi Island are invisible on this map. Of the Mercury Island group, only Great Mercury is visible. Middle Mercury Island- home of the giant tusked weta can’t be seen. Red Mercury Island- where rats were eradicated and tuatara reintroduced, is too small to be seen. The Karori Wildlife Sanctuary in Wellington is also on such a small scale it’s practically invisible.

So, when we talk about conservation in NZ, it turns out we have a large area devoted to conservation, with apparently not a lot of conservation going on.

In the early 80s, the problem was apparently the lack of a specialised conservation agency. This was rectified in 1987, but recession and high public sector debt meant money wasn’t generous. So we waited for the economy to recover, and species like the brown teal or wetapunga kept sliding towards extinction. Then as more money came trickling in, we got a biodiversity strategy. Launched with fanfare but with few resources, experts like John Craig pithily noted that to reverse biodiversity loss, we actually needed a miracle. Such a miracle has not occurred. A review of the biodiversity strategy noted that only 2-3% of the reserve-areas in NZ got optimal management. Almost 50% got nothing. Lots of talk, promises and action plans. Little in the way of outcomes.

So, for almost 30 years we’ve sat, and waited, expecting that creating a department, or hoping for a reduction in public sector debt, or planning a biodiversity strategy will lead to adequate funding. Now some people in the conservation community are hoping that climate change and the stored carbon in native forests will lead to the necessary funding.

Every year we wait, and hope that somehow that the necessary funding will eventuate (something 2-3 orders of magnitude greater than what we’ve got now). And every year, species that are not part of the select few, continue their declines.

It’s really getting to the point where waiting for all that extra funding has to stop. Waiting hinders experimentation, it gets in the way of new ideas. It perpetuates inertia and contributes to increased extinction risks. What we really need to be doing is tabling a lot more new ideas on conservation and figuring out what’s stopping us from doing more with less.