Part 4: Integrated strategic management of biodiversity

Department of Conservation: Prioritising and partnering to manage biodiversity.

Biodiversity requires integrated and strategic management because it crosses geographical and organisational boundaries. In this Part, we examine:

Summary of our findings

DOC is a member of some sector groups in central government that are showing signs of focusing on improving the integration of biodiversity management between central and local government. Recent examples of working agreements between DOC and local authorities are starting to address the lack of regional co-ordination between agencies.

DOC has not renewed many conservation management strategies before the end of their 10-year terms. It is unlikely that these out-dated documents are supporting DOC's current strategic direction. Some of the people we interviewed were concerned that activities DOC has allowed on conservation land are not in keeping with conservation management strategies agreed with local communities.

Until recently, working agreements were not in place to support integrating DOC's work in the regions with local authorities' strategies for managing biodiversity. Roles and responsibilities were not clear.

Sector work with other government agencies

There are signs that integration of biodiversity management within central government and between central and local government may improve.

The New Zealand Biodiversity Strategy

Although The New Zealand Biodiversity Strategy (the Strategy) has not been set aside or replaced, our audit research confirmed that the Strategy is considered historical and, currently, is not relevant to managing biodiversity in New Zealand. DOC continues to have a "passive" co-ordinating role associated with the Strategy. During the past few years, DOC has shifted to focusing on policy work for central government sector groups, such as the Natural Resources Sector and the Business Growth Agenda.

Natural Resources Sector

The Natural Resources Sector (the NRS) was set up in 2008 to provide consistent quality policy advice about natural resources. The six member agencies are DOC, Land Information New Zealand, the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (now part of the Ministry for Primary Industries), the Ministry of Economic Development (now part of the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment), the Ministry for the Environment, and Te Puni K kiri.

The work of the NRS since 2009 has resulted in a number of issue papers intended to inform longer-term strategic policy. Recently, the NRS confirmed that its policy priorities were water, climate change, and the marine environment. Biodiversity is considered an important issue that "sits across" those priorities. However, the current priorities do not include land-based biodiversity, which is known to be at high risk.

Business Growth Agenda and Action Plan

The Government's Business Growth Agenda34 is supported by a Building Resources Action Plan in 2012. The Action Plan includes a focus on biodiversity and better co-ordination. The Action Plan identifies the "state of biodiversity" as a major indicator of economic prosperity. The Action Plan's conservation goal, "economic prosperity and well being", is underpinned by the "health of our ecosystems and the services they provide".

As a participating agency, DOC is responsible for leading two actions in 2012:

  • engaging at a strategic level with local authorities to improve co-ordination and more effectively manage biodiversity and ecosystem services; and
  • preparing guidance on biodiversity offsetting, in partnership with local authorities and developers, to help DOC when engaging with business and to support decision-making under the Resource Management Act.

Conservation management strategies to guide decision-making

Most of the conservation management strategies that DOC is responsible for were not renewed before the end of their 10-year term. They are important documents and required by law. DOC is supposed to take conservation management strategies into account when making decisions about activities on conservation land, and local authorities are supposed to take conservation management strategies into account when planning, and when making decisions under the Resource Management Act.

DOC describes conservation management strategies (see paragraphs 2.11-2.15) as its "handshake with the community". Conservation management strategies are also critical because local authorities are required by the Resource Management Act to take the strategies into account when preparing resource policies and plans and when granting resource consents.

Most conservation management strategies expired between four to eight years ago. This year, DOC started consulting to renew most of these. During our interviews, some of DOC's main stakeholders expressed concern about DOC's lack of timeliness in renewing conservation management strategies.

Members of conservation boards and other stakeholders also expressed concerns with how conservation management strategies and national park plans have been implemented. In their view, some activities that DOC has approved do not align with the conservation management strategies and national park plans agreed to with the community in those regions. They felt that DOC has not respected the integrity of the agreement that conservation management strategies and national park plans represent between the Crown and the public about how conservation land will be managed.

In 2006, we produced a report about DOC's management of conservation land. Recognising how critical conservation management strategies are to local decision-making and planning, we recommended then that DOC "give priority to finishing conservation management strategies ... that it has not prepared or reviewed within statutory timeframes".35

In our view, DOC has not met the intent of the statutory requirement to consult with communities and stakeholders in preparing local long-term strategic plans and in how these have been implemented in its decision-making processes in some instances.

People we interviewed told us that, in their view, DOC has focused on annual planning and budgeting and has not had a robust long-term strategic approach to planning. Concerns were raised about DOC's short-term approach to resourcing core biodiversity operations (such as pest and weed control), which are often co-managed with other partners, especially local authorities. As DOC prepares to implement its new prioritisation systems, it needs to consult with communities on how its new systems will affect conservation management in the regions.

Without effective engagement and longer-term planning, DOC may be limiting its ability to build effective local working relationships.

Clarity of roles and responsibilities in working agreements

We found a lack of clarity about roles and responsibilities between agencies in the regions we visited. Until recently, working agreements have not been in place to support integrating DOC's work in the regions with local authorities' strategies for managing biodiversity. Recent working agreements between DOC and local authorities are starting to address the lack of regional co-ordination.

In 2009, New Zealand's fourth report to the Convention on Biological Diversity said that:

... the development of memorandums of understanding and joint operational statements would also encourage agencies to work collaboratively for better biodiversity outcomes.36

The lack of partnership agreements to support integrating biodiversity management between agencies is still an issue. Formal strategies and working agreements may not be appropriate or practical for some types of collaborative initiatives. However, for local authorities involved in core biodiversity work on neighbouring public land and waterways, often in partnership with DOC, we expected to find some form of working agreement. The absence of these agreements undermines the clarity of common goals, roles and responsibilities, and ongoing co-ordination to achieve results.

In the regions we visited, we did not find a co-ordinated strategic approach to managing biodiversity. We did find some more recent examples of working agreements with local authorities.

One example, the Nature Central initiative, is a formal partnership agreement between DOC's Wellington and Hawke's Bay regional conservancies and three local authorities in the lower North Island. There is also a well-developed formal partnership agreement (the Kia Wharite restoration project) between DOC and Horizons Regional Council (the Council) to integrate work across public conservation and private land in a specific ecosystem (see Part 6).

We also found recent examples where DOC and regional council chief executives had set up co-ordinated working agreements or discussion groups. The agreements and groups showed promise of a more co-ordinated and collaborative approach to managing biodiversity.

These types of partnership agreements could address the historical lack of integration between DOC and local government. In our view, they could be used as models to facilitate developing more agreements with local authorities.

Part 5 of this report looks in more detail at how effectively DOC has worked with regional agencies and stakeholders.

Recommendation 3
We recommend that the Department of Conservation renew all conservation management strategies in a timely manner and before they expire.
Recommendation 4
We recommend that the Department of Conservation prepare and implement working agreements with local authorities as a standard practice for managing biodiversity in the regions.
Recommendation 5
We recommend that the Department of Conservation establish longer-term plans and resourcing commitments with partners that are working on core biodiversity operations.

34: For more information about the Business Growth Agenda, see the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment's website,, Business Growth Agenda.

35: Controller and Auditor-General (2006), Department of Conservation: Planning for and managing publicly owned land, Wellington.

36: New Zealand's Fourth National Report to the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (2009), page 35.

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