Friday, April 12, 2024

DOC cuts must not include wild animal control: Feds

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Wayne Langford says it would be short-sighted and irresponsible of DOC to take that money from urgently needed wild animal control work. 
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With wild deer, pig, wallaby and goat numbers on the rise, cost-cutting by the Department of Conservation simply must not come out of pest and wild animal control budgets, Federated Farmers says. 

As Finance Minister Nicola Willis looks to slash public service spending annually by $1.5 billion, most government departments and agencies have been asked to find savings.  

DOC needs to cut its spending by 6.5% ($46 million), but Federated Farmers president Wayne Langford says it would be short-sighted and irresponsible of DOC to take that money from urgently needed wild animal control work. 

“Hunters, processors, Federated Farmers, DOC representatives and others met recently to discuss how we could work together to reduce wild game numbers and, potentially, use meat from those animals for community good, such as foodbanks. 

“We need a sustained effort from everyone involved to get on top of feral deer and goat numbers in particular.”

Conservationists have talked about the young plants in our bush understorey being completely wiped out, “so it’s no wonder deer are looking to farmland for food”, Langford says.  

“Sheep and beef farmers have enough costs piling on them without feral animals undermining their livelihoods.”

Just before last year’s general election, Federated Farmers, Forest & Bird, and the NZ Institute of Forestry sent a joint letter to politicians asking for greater commitment to controlling  large mobs of feral browsing pests.

The letter said the current suite of control efforts, including farmer-funded pest control, recreational hunting and DOC of regional council-deployed hunters “are failing in many areas to adequately control populations”.

Langford says increasing populations of feral browsing animals take a heavy economic and environment toll, and risk the spread of diseases such as bovine tuberculosis.

“Not only do they destroy vegetation planted by farmers for riparian and biodiversity protection, but they undermine farm economic viability by chomping through vast amounts of grass – feed that’s perilously short in dry districts.

“One deer eats the same amount as two adult sheep or a one-year-old heifer, and one wild goat is the equivalent of one sheep. It’s a serious problem.” 

Langford acknowledges some farmers value having deer on their properties for hunting.

“The next-door farmer might have a completely opposing view, so it’s not always straight forward.”

Asked by Federated Farmers whether DOC’s cost-cutting would affect its pest control work, deputy director-general regional operations Henry Weston says no decisions have been made yet.  

He agrees browsing feral animals are on the rise.

“Wild deer, pigs and goats have increased across all land tenures, including public conservation land,” he says.

DOC’s monitoring programme shows wild deer, goats, tahr and chamois are at 82% of sites on public conservation land, an increase from 63% in 2013.

Federated Farmers Waikato meat and wool chair Reon Verry, who farms at Te Kuiti, says DOC is a “bad neighbour” as far as pests go.

He says pigs and goats come off the adjacent DOC estate, the former rooting up his pasture and the latter eating grass and digging holes under fences.  

Wild pigs have also been known to chase and eat lambs.

While the problem on his farm is no worse than in previous years, it’s no better either, Verry says. 

“If DOC has to find savings, it should come from the department reducing its litigating in planning arenas, such as Waikato’s Plan Change 1 hearings, where it opposes food and fibre producers and generally makes life tougher for farmers. 

“I find it ironic they make a lot of effort ensuring there are rules to keep stock out of waterways, but the feral animals they seem to worry less about come out of their estate and invade our farms.”

Meanwhile, the NZ Taxpayers’ Union claims DOC’s resources are spread so thin because of its “every-growing backroom bureaucracy rather than delivering on improved conservation outcomes”.

It says, since 2017, DOC’s head count has grown by 28.2%, including an extra 134 managers and at least 319 more staff in back-office roles.

“This is the same department that spent almost $12,000 on a funeral for a turtle and more than $5000 on retirement gifts for its former director-general,” the union says. 

Weston says that while much of DOC’s staff growth has been in the ‘back-office’, “this relies on a broad definition of ‘back-office’ that includes roles like scientists and technical advisors. 

“These roles have valuable, relevant expertise in topics vital to DOC’s remit. Reduced ‘back-office’ or administrative work for rangers means more time doing front-line work in the field, and having dedicated staff do that work is more efficient.”

On the comment that DOC can be a bad neighbour, he says the department has more neighbours than anyone else in New Zealand.

“While there are challenges, there is also a huge opportunity to work together with councils, farmers and others. We are eager to work more closely with the community on these controls.”

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