Part 2: About the Department of Conservation

Department of Conservation: Prioritising and partnering to manage biodiversity.

DOC operates within a broader context that includes international agreements on biodiversity14 and a range of interconnected national statutes, policies, and strategies. For this performance audit, we focused specifically on DOC's role in managing biodiversity and how well it integrates its work with others.

In this Part, we describe DOC's:

Mandate and framework for managing biodiversity

DOC's roles and functions are set out in the Conservation Act 1987. DOC was set up to manage, for conservation purposes, land and natural and historic resources held under the Act. It is responsible for managing biodiversity on conservation land15 and waters. Conservation land comprises about one third of New Zealand's total land mass.

Outside of conservation land, DOC advocates, informs, supports, and encourages others to manage biodiversity effectively. How DOC works with local authorities is particularly important for biodiversity management outside conservation land and waterways.

DOC also has specific responsibilities under the Conservation Act to "preserve so far as is practicable all indigenous freshwater fisheries, and protect recreational freshwater fisheries and freshwater fish habitats". Appendix 1 sets out the applicable subsections of the Conservation Act.

Statutory and planning framework

As well as for the Conservation Act, DOC has the lead responsibility for the National Parks Act 1980, Reserves Act 1977, Wild Animal Control Act 1977, and Wildlife Act 1953. There are complex connections with the Resource Management Act 1991 and its responsible agency, the Ministry for the Environment, and with local authorities, which we discuss further in Part 4.

The statutory framework that DOC works within has a hierarchy of policies, strategies, and plans. The hierarchy includes statements of general policy, conservation management strategies, and conservation management plans, which are set out in Figure 2.

Figure 2
Statutory framework for managing conservation land

Figure 2 - Statutory framework for managing conservation land.

Source: Department of Conservation.

Note: Marine and coastal biodiversity is outside the scope of our audit.

Conservation General Policy

DOC is responsible for producing statements of general policy. It published the Conservation General Policy in May 2005 (see Appendix 2, which sets out Chapter 7 of the Conservation General Policy, on "Conservation Beyond Public Conservation Lands and Waters"). It provides direction for implementing the Conservation, Wildlife, Reserves, and Wild Animal Control Acts, as well as the Marine Reserves Act 1971 and the Marine Mammals Protection Act 1978. The National Parks General Policy provides the same implementation guidance for its associated legislation (the National Parks Act 1980).

DOC has said clearly for some time that it relies on other government and non-governmental agencies and groups to achieve its goals. DOC's Conservation General Policy states:

... not all conservation goals are achievable on public conservation lands or waters. DOC needs to work cooperatively with other landowners and occupiers and the wider community, including local government, to protect and advocate for natural resources.

The Conservation General Policy also provides direction for conservation management strategies, produced by DOC's regional conservancy offices in consultation with the community.16

Conservation management strategies

Conservation management strategies are DOC's mechanism for ensuring that national strategies (including statements of general policy) are supported locally. The strategies set up objectives for the integrated management of natural and historic resources, and for recreation, tourism, or other conservation purposes.

Conservation management strategies cover a 10-year period, and DOC must renew each strategy within 10 years of the New Zealand Conservation Authority approving it.

The purpose and processes for developing and approving conservation management strategies are set out in section 17D of the Conservation Act. Like local government's long-term plans, the regional conservation management strategies are prepared using a formal consultation process. DOC describes conservation management strategies as its "handshake with the community".

Preparing conservation management strategies is the primary method of setting regional conservation and recreational goals, objectives, and methods of management. The consultation process is intended to include the local community in identifying protected areas and values important for regional management. Similar strategies and implementation plans are used for national parks.

Conservation management strategies have important implications for local authorities, which must take the conservation management strategies into account when preparing resource policies and plans, granting resource consents, and setting conditions on consents.17

Conservation management plans

The purpose of conservation management plans is to carry out conservation management strategies. The plans are intended to set out detailed objectives for the integrated management of natural and historic resources within areas managed by DOC under various Acts, and for recreation, tourism, and other conservation purposes.

The Department of Conservation's intentions and objectives

At the time of conducting our audit, DOC had published its 2011-14 statement of intent (SOI). The SOI set out what DOC intended to achieve and how it would carry out its role in protecting biodiversity. The most relevant objective was that "the diversity of our natural heritage is maintained and restored".18

There were six areas of work under this outcome:

  • Conserving a full range of ecosystems to a healthy functioning state.
  • Conserving nationally threatened native species to ensure their persistence.
  • Maintaining and restoring the natural features (landforms, landscapes and seascapes) that the majority of New Zealanders consider nationally iconic.
  • Maintaining and restoring the native species that the majority of New Zealanders consider nationally iconic.
  • Maintaining or restoring locally treasured natural heritage through working with others.
  • Holding public conservation lands, waters and species for the benefits they deliver now and for the future.19

DOC's SOI also included specific references to working with others to achieve its outcomes:

  • Priority ecosystems and indigenous species do not necessarily always occur on public conservation land and waters. DOC collaborates with others to secure these priority ecosystems and threatened species using a range of means, including providing training, information, help with equipment, and operating shared pest management programmes.
  • DOC works with local government in its operations, as part of Resource Management Act planning processes, and to support biodiversity protection outside conservation land and waters. DOC engages with tāngata whenua, local government, private landowners, and land care community groups through the delivery of Ngā Whenua Rāhui, Biodiversity Condition, Biodiversity Advice, and Nature Heritage funds.20

DOC also manages the Terrestrial and Freshwater Biodiversity Information System by providing funding for biodiversity information, data systems, and digital media, and governs this through a cross-sector steering committee made up of central government agencies, Crown research institutes, and local government representatives.

Funding to manage biodiversity

The total appropriation for Vote Conservation in 2012/13 is $444.9 million.21 Within Vote Conservation, three different appropriations support biodiversity management:

  • The Management of Natural Heritage appropriation makes up 35.1% of Vote Conservation (totalling $156.3 million in 2012/13). The appropriation is for maintaining, restoring, and protecting ecosystems, habitats, and species.22
  • The Conservation with the Community appropriation ($15.1 million) is for educational and public awareness services, and getting the community involved in conservation. DOC told us that about $12.5 million (80%) of this appropriation is directed towards biodiversity management.
  • The Crown Contribution to Regional Pest Management Strategies (totalling $3.1 million) is for controlling animal and plant pests on conservation land.

There are also some non-departmental output expenses that contribute to biodiversity management. They include:

  • NZ Biodiversity Funds (grants for land managers, to help with the cost of biodiversity activities), with a budgeted amount of $10.5 million; and
  • Identification and Implementation of Protection for Natural and Historic Places (funding for identifying and protecting biodiversity and ecosystems on private and Māori land), with a budgeted amount of $19.8 million.

At the time of writing, DOC told us that it estimated there were the equivalent of 1148 people working full-time within DOC on biodiversity.

DOC is not the only source of funding or of people working to protect biodiversity in New Zealand. We are unable to provide an estimate of the amount of overall funding being used for biodiversity management throughout central government because this information is no longer collated and monitored.23 It would also be difficult to identify funding for biodiversity in local government, and doing so is outside the scope of this audit.

The Department of Conservation's changing business model and structure

DOC has embarked on a major process of change prompted by recognising that it needed to improve its effectiveness to achieve its outcomes as well as meet funding reductions. In 2011/12, an internal review led to a significant redesign of DOC's business model and structure.

DOC's new business model has two main drivers:

  • focus us externally toward our stakeholders and
  • integrate the organisation to deliver consistent, aligned outcomes.24

The new business model was designed to support local conservation work in a way that is consistent nationally and to support better co-operation and collaboration between DOC's business groups.

The new structure was designed to centralise support service functions through three shared service offices.25 These changes, along with other efficiencies, have enabled DOC to find the required budget savings.

DOC is increasing its focus on partnerships to achieve biodiversity gains. It has established new business development and community engagement staff roles to support this strategy. DOC is also researching how biodiversity "offsetting"26 might work to achieve Government's environmental and economic goals.

The second phase of DOC's change process will include a review of its delivery functions, which is due to be competed in July 2013.


DOC has stated that the purpose of its change of operations is to "get others involved in conservation – contributing money and effort to vital conservation work in the field". DOC will know it is succeeding:

... when something like:

  • 60% of all conservation work is carried out by local partners on and off conservation land
  • 40% of all conservation work is carried out by DOC field staff.27

DOC has also prepared new tools for prioritising its work on biodiversity management, as part of its Natural Heritage Management System. The new prioritisation tools are designed for species and ecosystems management as well as for DOC's advisory work under the Resource Management Act. The new tools have not yet been fully implemented.

14: The international conventions are the 1993 Convention on Biological Diversity (the Biodiversity Convention) and the 1971 Convention on Wetlands of International Importance (the Ramsar Convention).

15: See Glossary. Conservation land includes national parks, high-country parks, forest parks, off-shore and subantarctic islands, reserves, wildlife management areas, historic sites, and "stewardship" areas.

16: DOC has 11 regional conservancy offices. More information about DOC's structure is available at, About DOC.

17: Sections 66, 74, and 104(1)(b)(i) of the Resource Management Act 1991.

18: Department of Conservation (2011), Statement of Intent 2011-2014, Wellington, pages 17-18.

19: Department of Conservation (2011), Statement of Intent 2011-2014, Wellington, page 18.

20: These are contestable funds that DOC administers. The Ngā Whenua Rāhui fund is for helping Māori landholders protect indigenous forest and other ecosystems "in a way that is responsive to their spiritual and cultural needs". The Biodiversity Condition Fund is for improving indigenous species and habitats, and the Biodiversity Advice Fund supports providing information and advice to land managers. The Nature Heritage Fund is for protecting indigenous forests and other ecosystems that "represent the full range of natural diversity originally present in the New Zealand landscape".

21: This total includes output expenses of $368.1 million and $62.4 million of capital expenditure.

22: We note that, of the $13.5 million funding reduction for 2012/13, the amount budgeted for the Management of Natural Heritage appropriation reduced by $7.7 million.

23: Funding on biodiversity throughout central government agencies has not been monitored since funding under The New Zealand Biodiversity Strategy was distributed into separate Department budgets in 2006.

24: Department of Conservation (September 2011), Final Report of the Organisational Design Review, page 5.

25: The shared service offices are in Hamilton, Wellington, and Christchurch.

26: Biodiversity "offsetting" means accepting that economic development will sometimes lead to a site-specific loss of biodiversity that cannot be avoided, remedied, or mitigated. Developers can enhance the same or more threatened biodiversity at a separate nearby site "to achieve a net gain in biodiversity, measured using selected ecological criteria." See DOC's January 2010 publication, Biodiversity Offsets Programme, for more information.

27: Department of Conservation (September 2011), Final Report of the Organisational Design Review, page 9.

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