It is great to be back writing this column.
I hope you have been able to enjoy some time with close family and friends over the holiday season.
My family’s tradition is to meet in Northland. Even when my wife Anuschka and I lived overseas, we always came back during the summer holiday season to reconnect with family, and as our children grew up, the beauty of that part of the country became even more important and special.
Northland is a stunning part of New Zealand – not just the beaches and rivers, but it also has the best-preserved example of mature native forest in New Zealand.
At this time of year tourists come from all over the world to see it at its summer best. We have an obligation to protect it. It’s part of what makes New Zealand.
But that is not happening. It’s a treasure under threat: our native forests in Northland are dying of neglect. And the government has decided to do nothing about it.
Possums are literally denuding the trees: during the holiday season I saw many Puriri and Kauri trees stripped bare. Once that happens, even if a tree is hundreds of years old, it cannot survive. In all my years visiting Northland, I have never seen it so bad.
Destructive species like possums, rabbits and stoats are everywhere, visible where they used to be hidden. These are all introduced pests and should never be left to multiply in such a delicate and unique environment. They are killing not just the trees, but also the bush and native birds.
This is where the government could easily step in. Forest & Bird, New Zealand’s largest private conservation organisation has estimated that investment ranging from $10 million to $20 million over 20 years would fix the problem of pest control.
That is peanuts considering what are at risk of losing. It is certainly not a lot to pay to preserve one of New Zealand’s most historic areas and famous tourist attractions.
The buck stops with the government, specifically at the Department of Conservation (DoC), which revealed shockingly last year that it has no plan to control pests, and more incredibly, has no intention of demanding the extra funding required.
Over the decades, DoC has had a reputation for steadfast protection of our flora and fauna. New Zealanders have rightly trusted this Department to care of what is natural and precious to us.
Why has it become impotent?
It seems that they have been so comprehensively brutalised by this government’s cuts to funding and staff that it has given up. DoC needs to gather its wits, remember what its job is and stand up for Northland forests before they collapse completely.
This is a part of its role.
At this time of year, when we are enjoying our natural environment the most, the most important thing is to remember our responsibility.
David Shearer is an elected Member of Parliament from Mt Albert in Auckland and Labour Party’s spokesman for Foreign Affairs.