< December 2021 newsletter

The Department of Co-governance?

The key function of the Department of Conservation is to ensure that public conservation land is appropriately managed, protected and preserved for New Zealanders - now and in the future. However, there appears to be a shift in priorities at the Department to accommodate the Treaty “partnership” ideology.

This shift is illustrated below:

1. The Options Development Group review of DOC policies

In 2019 the Options Development Group (ODG) undertook a partial review of two DOC policies: the Conservation General Policy and the General Policy for National Parks. Together the policies cover issues such as:

  • how DOC works with whānau, hapū, iwi and the wider community;
  • how they set conservation objectives; 
  • how to prioritise conservation; and
  • how they consider applications for commercial concessions.

The Group was asked to review the policies to ensure they were “well placed to give effect to the principles of the Treaty” to “help [DOC] meet their responsibilities as a Treaty partner.”

However, when draft recommendations were leaked in April 2021, it was apparent the ODG had gone far beyond their remit, and according to a whistleblower, “the process has largely been kept behind closed doors.”

This included a recommendation that DOC “reform the ownership model of public conservation lands and waters” and “provide for the delegation, transfer and devolution of functions and powers within the conservation system to Tangata Whenua.”

See a copy of the leaked draft recommendations below.

Draft recommendations from the Options Development Group for the partial reviews of the general policies

Theme and recommendations Sub-recommendations

Fundamental reform
Undertake a fundamental reform of the conservation system as a whole.

1. Review and replace the Conservation Act 1987 and all associated schedule 1 Acts (and associated policies, strategies and delivery) to honour Te Tiriti/The Treaty and provide for the meaningful exercise of rangatiratanga and kaitiakitanga by Tangata Whenua, to ensure that Papatuanuku thrives.

2. Redraft chapters 2 of the general policies* on Treaty of Waitangi responsibilities, and progress related changes to other chapters.

3. Ensure adequate time and rescue is provided to ensure a successful change process for both Te Papa Atawhai and Tangata Whenua throughout the reform process.

Purpose of conservation
Reframe the purpose of conservation to ensure it is fit-for-purpose for Aotearoa.

1. Embed a new understanding of conservation that is specific to Aotearoa New Zealand that reflects both Tangata Whenua and Tangata Tiriti perspectives and supports thriving indigenous biodiversity.

Centre tikanga and matauranga within the conservation system.

1. Ensure the conservation system and decision-making within it gives weight to matauranga and upholds tikanga.

2. Ensure that the terms and key principles under the conservation legislation, policies and strategies reflect Te Ao Maori.

3. Ensure the relationship between Tangata Whenua and conservation lands, waters, what tapu, resources, species and other taonga (including tikanga and matauranga relating to that relationship) is determined by Tangata Whenua.

Lands, waters, resources, species and other taonga
Recast the legal status of conservation lands and waters, resources, and indigenous species.

1. Reform the ownership model of public conservation lands and waters to reflect the enduring relationships Tangata Whenua have with these places and the resources/taonga that reside within them.

2. Undertake a review of all classifications applied to public conservation lands and waters to recognise Tangata Whenua relationships.

3. Revoke Crown ownership of indigenous species.

4. Resolve Tangata Whenua rights and interests in the fresh water and marine domains.

5. Ensure Tangata Whenua access to and use of all species and resources managed within the conservation system, including within the context of permissions and concessions.

Tiriti/Treaty partnership
Reform conservation governance and management to reflect Tiriti/Treaty partnership at all levels.

1. Review and reform all conservation governance entities including the New Zealand Conservation Authority, Conservation Boards and other statutory bodies to reflect Tiriti/Treaty partnership.

2. Adopt appropriate models for mana to mana relationships, planning, and decision-making at the appropriate geographic scale.

3. Honour and implement existing Tiriti/Treaty settlement commitments and arrangements, noting these do not limit the full expression of te Tiriti/the Treaty partnership.

4. Make immediate changes to make sure that Tangata Whenua are engaged in decision-making that affects their interests, including in the context of permissions and concessions.

Tino rangatiratanga
Enable devolution of powers including decision-making functions to meaningfully recognise the role of tino rangatiratanga.

1. Provide for the delegation, transfer, and devolution of functions and powers within the conservation system to Tangata Whenua.

Build capability and capacity within Te Papa Atawhai and with Tangata Whenua.

1. Provide resourcing to build capability and capacity for the expression of Tiriti/Treaty partnership for both Te Papa Atawhai and Tangata Whenua, including but not limited to:

a.      Development of planning documents

b.      Participation in decision-making

c.      Delivery of conservation at place

d.      The connection of Tangata Whenua to conservation lands and waters.

*The general policies refers to the Conservation General Policy and the General Policy for National Parks

For an interesting interview with the DOC whistleblower, listen to the Wild Podcast available HERE.

According to the DOC website, the final report was to be presented to the Director-General in mid-2021, and public consultation was due to take place in “late 2021”. However, it is becoming clear that at least some of these recommendations are already being actioned.

2. The reclassification of Stewardship Land

Hot on the heels of the ODG report, and in line with the recommendation to “Undertake a review of all classifications applied to public conservation lands and waters to recognise Tangata Whenua relationships,” the government announced that they had established two “independent expert national panels” to review DOC stewardship land in the Northern and Western South Island.

Stewardship land (or Stewardship areas) are areas that were allocated to DOC when the department was established in 1987. It is the generic name for conservation areas that had not been assessed and identified as requiring additional protection. Seemingly a good idea, as it is land that has been sitting without review for 30+ years. However, there are incongruities in the Terms of Reference which conflict with protecting the conservation estates natural and historical values, such as:

 “If requested by the Minister of Conservation or Department officials, the panels will review stewardship land parcels that are subject to or have been identified as potential mining locations and make revised land classification recommendations. This may require the panel to revise the order in which they are reviewing the stewardship land within their region. Mining related applications on stewardship land will incur fees on a cost-recovery basis.” 

This appears to point to an interest in converting some conservation land to mining. 

In a move that resembles another ODG recommendation, i.e., “Make immediate changes to make sure that Tangata Whenua are engaged in decision-making that affects their interest, including in the context of permissions and concessions,” the government has established a Ngāi Tahu Mana Whenua panel to work alongside the two national panels.

According to Ngāi Tahu spokesperson Lisa Tumahai, “The Ngāi Tahu-appointed mana whenua panel will provide information on stewardship land within the Ngāi Tahu takiwā to enhance the Minister of Conservation’s decision making.” Ms Tumahai says that while Ngāi Tahu environmental values must be protected and enhanced, the reclassification process will also determine whether some land can be made available for other purposes.

“We want to protect native species, significant ecosystems, and traditional places for future generations. It’s also important that as part of this process mana whenua and the public have an opportunity to provide their views on whether economic activity should be undertaken in some places if it is appropriate to do so.”

Considering that Ngai Tahu has interests in mining in the South Island, it is likely the panels will face conflict of interest issues throughout the reclassification process.

DOC is currently asking for submissions on their reclassification process. See below for information on how you can have your say.

3. The “Treaty Partner Issues and Options Paper”

In February this year, (2021) DOC commissioned Deloitte to prepare a paper outlining alternatives to the current way revenue received from concession holders is distributed. (A concession is a lease, license, permit, or easement to use public conservation land to conduct an approved commercial activity). Currently, DOC’s fee structure for activity fees is determined by a percentage of revenue earned through a concession.

The review sought to “provide the Department of Conservation (DOC) with an opening to engage with [their] Treaty Partners on whether the Percentage Revenue Framework is ‘fit for purpose’ from a Treaty Partner perspective.”

Options presented include providing mana whenua with the opportunity of exclusive use of DOC land in carrying out commercial activities, at a fee discount or no charge, allowing iwi to manage and grant concessions under a new “co-designed” framework, and a revision of the current funding allocation model, to be “co-designed” with iwi/hapū.

A summary of the options is below. The full document can be accessed HERE. 

4. The development of Management Plans

Reflecting the Options Development Group’s recommendation that DOC “Provide resourcing to build capability and capacity for the expression of Tiriti/Treaty partnership for both Te Papa Atawhai (the Department of Conservation) and Tangata Whenua, including but not limited to [the] development of planning documents,” DOC has commissioned iwi to write their 10-Year Management Plans.

The danger to the conservation estate in implementing such a policy is explained in a letter received from an ex-member of the West Coast Conservation Board. See excerpt below:

“Another concern is DOC’s directions with co-writing/reviewing Management Plans. [IWI] has drafted a contract which DOC is currently reviewing. The idea is that [IWI] planners would be paid by DOC to carry out much of the work. What is of concern is this process circumvents all of the usual checks and balances that would be in place to ensure the process did not become corrupted. For example, DOC would need to abide by the public sector guide for managing conflicts of interest.

“[IWI] would be exempt from these checks and balances. That is to say, there is nothing to stop [IWI] from producing a plan which allows for iwi economic aspirations or even the aspirations of other third parties partnering with [IWI].


You may have noticed that a theme is emerging - and this theme that does not necessarily have the best interests of the conservation estate at heart. The danger is that once DOC strays from its established objectives, issues like that which has recently emerged in Lake Waikaremoana where the Great Walk has been closed for months as local iwi say their relationship with the Crown has failed. Please read Stuff report HERE.

It is difficult to see we will achieve the best outcomes for our conservation estate under the current trajectory as outlined above. We need to discuss the issues and decide where, as a nation, we are heading. 


DOC is currently asking for submissions on their proposal for “Streamlining the stewardship land reclassification process”. All the relevant information is available on the DOC website HERE. Submissions close Friday, 18 March 2022.

You can also contact the PM, the Minister of Conservation Kiri Allan, and your local MP about your concerns.

Kiri Allan: [email protected]

Jacinda Ardern: [email protected]


DOC media release: DOC announces next step for reclassification of stewardship land

Press Release: Te Runanga o Ngai Tahu: Ngāi Tahu Panel To Work On Stewardship Land Reclassification

DOC website: Percentage of Revenue Framework Review

Conservation Act 1987


Go back to the December 2021 newsletter


Stewardship land reclassification on the West Coast

Following hard on the heels of calls for submissions on “Streamlining the stewardship land reclassification process”, which closed on March 18, DOC has announced the commencement of a 40 day consultation period allowing for public input into proposed reclassifications of 504 parcels of stewardship land on the West Coast of the South Island. The consultation period runs until 26 July 2022. Continue reading

Overhaul of conservation legislation underway

The government is undertaking a comprehensive reform of conservation legislation. Currently, it is consulting on a set of targeted amendments to legislation regarding conservation management planning, and the concessions system. Continue reading

There is literally a huge amount at stake here!

The Government is considering legislative changes in order to fast-track the review of 2.5 million hectares of Crown-owned land known as “stewardship land.” That is around nine per cent of New Zealand’s total land area! The proposed process is set to reduce public scrutiny, and favour those with vested interests. You have until Friday 18 March to have your say. Continue reading

Iwi avarice trumps conservation values on West Coast

The West Coast Conservation Board is mired in what appears to be an intractable conflict of interest between conservationist and iwi commercial interests. Three members of the DOC West Coast Conservation Board (the Board) have recently resigned after being the subject of personal attacks, including being labelled racist for raising what they see as conflicts between the interests of conservation and the commercial interests of Ngāi Tahu.  Continue reading

The undermining of our democracy continues apace

Please see below some examples from around the country: Earlier this year the Minister of Conservation signed a partnership agreement between the ministry, DOC and Auckland iwi Ngai Tai ki Tamaki, to share in the management of natural resources, and cultural and historical heritage. Ngai Tai ki Tamaki’s role is that of guardians and stewards. They are seeking to establish an ‘iwi conservancy’ over land and taonga species. They are based at Umupuia, just south of Maraetai, on the shores of the Hauraki Gulf. Yet they claim an area of interest, and therefore influence, that stretches from north of Auckland, down to Tauranga, including the whole of the Coromandel Peninsula; much of the Manukau Harbour in the west, and out past Gt. Barrier Island in the east, as shown below. Continue reading