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The Conservation Management Planning System is broken and needs urgent overhaul

25 June 2023

The Environmental Defence Society (EDS) today released its review of the Conservation Management Planning System, which calls for urgent reform to deliver better conservation outcomes. Co-authored by Dr Deidre Koolen-Bourke, Raewyn Peart, Bronwyn Wilde and Tracey Turner, the report reviews the adequacy of the legislation and policy settings, statutory planning documents, concessions system and institutional arrangements for managing the conservation estate. 

“It is really important that we get the Conservation Management Planning System right because it provides the framework for managing over one-third of Aotearoa New Zealand’s land area, as well as many marine areas, and our precious flora and fauna are in serious peril,” said EDS Senior Policy Researcher Dr Deidre Koolen-Bourke.

“Our review found a planning system that was largely broken. Many conservation planning documents are outdated, poorly implemented and lack the necessary resourcing to make them work.

“A particular focus of our review was compliance with Te Tiriti o Waitangi obligations. We found that key planning documents failed to incorporate Treaty principles adequately or set clear objectives and milestones in this area. The result is an ongoing implementation gap.

“A persistent message that came through in our interviews was the need to bring the planning system, and the Department of Conservation, back to place. That is where communities and mana whenua are and where the knowledge, connection and relationship between people and Papatūānuku resides. 

“Of our public land, national parks are the jewel in the Crown, attracting thousands of visitors each year. We urgently need a planning system that is robust as well as agile enough to respond to challenges such as increasing visitor numbers, new technologies like ebikes and drones, and climate change impacts. In order to achieve this we recommend: 

  • A clearer and more directive national policy framework;
  • Fewer, more integrated plans and a more streamlined planning process;
  • New regional operational plans that link conservation management plans with the Department of Conservation’s budgetary allocations;
  • A strengthening of the role of regional Conservation Boards;
  • An increased focus on management planning at place in partnership with iwi, hapū and whānau; and
  • A strengthening of the oversight role, independence and powers of the New Zealand Conservation Authority.

“We hope these recommendations will demonstrate how the conservation management planning system can be fixed. We have recommended actions that can be implemented right away to improve the functionality of the system and deliver better conservation outcomes. 

“We will be incorporating the analysis and recommendations from this report into our major Conservation Law reform project which will be concluding later this year.

“Our natural world is too special to be left languishing under a poorly functioning and outdated planning system. We need to get on with fixing the system now,” concluded Dr Koolen-Bourke.

A copy of the report can be found here.