Is having biodiversity just a ‘nice to have’ optional extra?

Posted by Margaret Stanley @mc_stanley1

Auckland Council is currently consulting on their budget for the next 10 years. If I put this in a personal context, my youngest child, currently 8 years old, will finish both primary school and high school during that period. What kind of Auckland do I want her to grow up in?

As an ecologist, it’s no secret that I’d want her to grow up in an Auckland with better environmental outcomes – both on land and in our marine environment. But I also have access to scientific literature and evidence that says a healthy environment equals healthy people.

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My 8 year old collecting seeds from kaihua-native jasmine in our urban backyard (Parsonsia heterophylla)

Healthy Environment = Healthy People

There’s plenty of evidence out there that connecting people to nature improves physical and mental wellbeing. Studies have shown that walking in natural environments, rather than urban jungles, can reduce stress, anxiety and blood pressure. Connecting with nature is particularly important for children. We also know that tourists come to New Zealand for our biodiversity and landscapes, and that NZ’s economy is based on its natural capital. So biodiversity in Auckland is not a ‘nice to have’ – it’s essential.

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Walking in nature can help improve mental and physical health outcomes

Our biodiversity is unique – we must protect it

If you’re like me, biodiversity has its own intrinsic worth – it’s not just useful to humans. We have lost so much already in Auckland: many of our ecosystems are endangered, as well as our species. Why shouldn’t Aucklanders be able to connect with species and ecosystems unique to NZ? Do we all need to visit National Parks in the South Island*? Instead of giving the litany of grave statistics of declining species and ecosystems, let’s focus on the things we still have in Auckland and need to protect.

Auckland has vestiges of amazing threatened ecosystems and species. However, they need our protection. There is no middle ground here – we need a Targeted Environmental Rate that cannot be diverted to other projects, and we need to have a targeted rate that actually delivers for our threatened habitats and species. When weeds outnumber native plants by 5:1 and two thirds of our shorebirds and seabirds are at risk of extinction, a feeble targeted rate just won’t do.

 

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Left: ‘Critically Endangered’ coastal turf ecosystem at Piha Beach (Photo credit: Ben Paris); top right ‘Nationally Critical’ long-tailed bat (Chalinolobus tuberculatus) (Photo credit: Ben Paris); ‘Nationally Threatened’ northern NZ dotterel  (Charadrius obscurus) family.

What’s the Regional Pest Management Plan (RPMP)?

Auckland Council is also consulting on its new proposed Regional Pest Management Plan (RPMP). The Biosecurity Act enables local government to produce an RPMP for their region to provide effective pest management. The proposed Regional Pest Management Plan (RPMP) produced by Auckland Council staff (after consultation via their 2015 discussion document), is technically very sound. In fact, I think it’s an exciting strategy document that will put Auckland firmly back in place as biosecurity and biodiversity leaders. However, it needs a realistic Targeted Environmental Rate to make sure it can be implemented. Since the ‘supercity’ came into being, and the Biosecurity Targeted Rate was lost from Auckland Regional Council, funding for pest management has been rapidly declining as funds have been diverted to other projects. Other councils, like Hawke’s Bay Regional Council, have been leading the way in implementing evidenced-based pest management for people, economy and biodiversity outcomes.

What will happen if the full RPMP isn’t implemented?

It’s clear that if Auckland Council don’t fund the full RPMP, then at best (Option B in the Long-term Plan consultation) they’ll only be able to do 50% of possum control and will only be able to protect ~66% of our high value ecological areas on regional and local parks. This will have major impacts on our biodiversity – Auckland Council and Aucklanders will have to sit back and watch while our parks become even more overrun with weeds and pests. We’ll have to wait another 10 years for another funding opportunity.

 

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Climbing asparagus (Asparagus scandens) (Left) and wild ginger (Hedychium gardnerianum) (Right) in  Auckland’s local parks

What do we need to do?

This is an unprecedented opportunity to invest in Auckland conservation. Do you really want to be ‘doing your thing’ over the next 10 years in an Auckland with further declining environmental and health outcomes? Having biodiversity isn’t just a ‘nice to have’ – it’s essential for healthy, happy Aucklanders.

I’ll be asking for a targeted environmental rate that will halt the decline of our biodiversity – Option B ($47p.a.) won’t cut it – we need to fully fund the Regional Pest Management Strategy at ~$60 per residential ratepayer per year. This hasn’t been put forward as an option – but you can still ask for it by ticking ‘other’ and specifying $60 or full RPMP in the comments section

Come and ask me questions about the environmental aspects of the 10-year Budget at the Auckland Conversations Panel Q&A – Margaret Stanley, Rod Oram, Nicola Toki, Hayden Smith – facilitated by Bernard Hickey. This Thursday 22nd March, Lower NZI, Aotea Centre, doors open 5pm.

Have your say before the 28th March by submitting here.

You can also have your say on the Regional Pest Management Plan.

*Disclaimer: As a South Islander who has lived in Auckland for 17 years, I’m not adverse to visiting South Island National Parks with great frequency!

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Dr Margaret Stanley is an Associate Professor in Ecology, School of Biological Sciences, University of Auckland and is the programme director of the Masters in Biosecurity and Conservation. Her interests in terrestrial community ecology are diverse, but can be grouped into three main research strands: urban ecology; invasion ecology; and plant-animal interactions.

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