By Cr Simon Friar, chairman of Environment Waikato’s regional pest management committee.
Environment Waikato spends nearly $6 million a year on pest control, spending that is an important part of the regional council’s work to protect the health of the regional economy and the environment.
That money helps deal with a range of animal pests that threaten primary production and biodiversity, and with pest plants that infest pasture and clog waterways.
The Waikato’s reliance on agriculture, forestry and tourism makes it particularly vulnerable to the economic threats posed by any uncontrolled introduced pests.
Experts predict that in the coming years, despite strong border biosecurity measures, New Zealand will experience increasing pressure from new pests and even pests that are already present.
It’s predicted that trade, international travellers and tourists will bring new invasive species, while some species that are already here may become more dangerous as our climate changes, extending their growing season and range.
Environment Waikato wants to make sure that our region is well prepared to handle these existing pests and the new threats that may emerge in the future. And we are determined to extract the greatest value from our spending on pest control, particularly by ensuring that central government is doing its fair share.
We’ve joined other regional councils to identify some challenges and shortfalls within the current national biosecurity system and recommend some changes to improve the system for both the Crown and regional councils.
One of this report’s key findings is that Crown’s current exemption from compliance with regional pest management strategies (known as an RPMS) creates a double standard between the Crown and all other landowners.
Under the current Biosecurity Act, the Crown and its agencies do not have to abide by the same regional pest rules as all other regional ratepayers.
The Crown does do pest control on its own lands to meet its conservation goals, and DOC and other agencies do cooperate with EW on many pest projects. But the lack of an obligation to comply with RPMS means the government seldom provides sufficient funds to underwrite Crown agencies’ work on EW-designated pests on the Crown estate.
As a result, EW sometimes has to delay or postpone necessary pest control operations because Crown agencies do not have the proper budgets to carry out parallel operations on adjacent Crown lands. This is not good value for our ratepayers.
Without uniform pest management responsibilities, there is a risk that the value gained by spending ratepayer funds on pest control on private land will be undermined by re-infestation by pests from untreated Crown lands. So, all regional councils around the country have made it a priority to persuade the new Government that the Crown’s current RPMS exemption is unfair and must be fixed in order to preserve future collaborative pest management efforts among councils and the Crown.
We are also asking that the government clarify Crown roles and responsibilities, especially with regard to handling new pest incursions, which can be very complex and costly to manage. Of course, the costs of not effectively managing new pests can be tremendous, which is why all levels of government must be clear on who does what.
Our advocacy for better pest and biosecurity management has become part of a larger dialogue between the Crown and local government.
The Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MAF) and Biosecurity New Zealand (BNZ) have commissioned their own "think piece" on the Future of Pest Management.
The new Government and the Crown agencies are reviewing both the MAF/BNZ document and a regional councils’ think piece as part of a public consultation process to develop policy adjustments to the biosecurity and pest management system.
MAF/BNZ expects to issue a single document for formal public consultation sometime this year.
You can be assured that Environment Waikato will be looking out to protect the interests of our regional ratepayers during this consultation process.
All interested Waikato residents are encouraged to have a look at these reports and participate in the consultation process when it opens.
You can find links to the regional councils’ pest Think Piece and to the Crown’s report on the EW website at www.ew.govt.nz/Projects/futurepests.html(external link).
We all need to be involved in this process to ensure we have the best system in place to protect our economic and environmental interests from pests.