Community conservation work not getting done due to Covid-19 related funding cuts

Community conservation groups are under increased pressure as they face funding cuts as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

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Groups are desperate for money and warn without it, the environmental impact could be irreversible. Source: 1 NEWS

Kauri Rescue’s funding from Auckland Council has been suspended since March, with the group concerned they won’t be able to continue helping property owners to treat trees infected with the kauri disease, pathogen, in the future.

“If we can’t continue to operate and work with them as quickly as we can for some of their trees it will be too late,” Kauri Rescue project coordinator Dr Mels Barton said.

“We are just making the job harder for ourselves every day that we delay and so I do think that the Government and the council should be putting as much money and effort in as possible.”

The group, which works with 75 locals in the Auckland region, was also affected by having to stop summer workshops and kauri dieback treatment on trees due to the lockdown, with the work classed as non-essential.

“Some of them it will be too late and they'll die so I do feel like we've let people down and it's very frustrating,” Dr Barton said.

Auckland Council is projecting its revenue has plummeted by $550 million as a result of the pandemic.

The council is proposing to cut funding for environmental services from $17 million to $7 million in its emergency budget, including reducing kauri dieback compliance staff.

In a statement, the council said it supports the work of Kauri Rescue and is "looking at ways to continue support" but cannot share "firm details at this point in time".

The emergency budget is expected to be signed off at the end of July.

"The council’s bridging funding for Kauri Rescue ran from February 2019 – February 2020 with the original intention of central government funding becoming available in the longer term," it said in the statement.

Forest and Bird central North Island regional manager Rebecca Stirnemann said the organisation is particularly concerned about the projected loss in funding for kauri dieback, as it’s still awaiting progress from the Government on implementing a proposed national pest management plan for the pathogen.

“Things like kauri dieback hasn't been sufficiently funded in this last Budget and we were relying on the council stepping into that gap but where they can’t we need the Government to step in and help those councils out,” she said.

Elsewhere, Taranaki Regional Council has signalled a budget reduction of $70,000 for the regional Wild for Taranaki biodiversity trust with a decreased funding total of $165,000 for the 2020/2021 year.

Christchurch City Council is proposing to introduce a one-off funding boost of $375,000 to support community organisations including those with a conservation focus as they recover from the pandemic.

Bay of Plenty Regional Council is hoping some conservation groups in the area may receive funding increases this year as it has applied for relevant Government funding.

Conservation groups like Ōtanewainuku Kiwi Trust who rely on funding from businesses have also been affected by the flow-on effects of reduced profits caused by the pandemic.

“We do know that we're probably, yes, at least eight, nine thousand dollars down in in terms of what we might normally get from those tourism-related sponsors,” Ōtanewainuku Kiwi Trust chairperson Bruce Fraser said.

“We rely on sponsorship hugely for the work that we do, we're a group of volunteers.”

It’s another worry on top of waiting to find out the potential effects of not being able to do any kiwi monitoring or trapping during the lockdown period.

“The worst case for us would be that the rats and possum and stoat numbers have really increased in that time that we haven’t been in there.”

The group is planning extra volunteer days to try catch up on the work.

Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage said she’s asked DOC to investigate increasing its fund for community conservation projects.

“It is always oversubscribed and the projects that it funds make a real difference for conservation… we're looking at increasing that,” she said.

Ms Sage said community conservation groups can submit proposals for money through the $200 million ‘Jobs for Nature’ fund announced in this year’s Budget.

Job categories include predator control, wetland restoration, regenerative planting, and maintaining tracks, huts and other public conservation land property.