The Department of Conservation is sending a strong message to tourism operators that they must comply with the law when operating on public conservation land.
DOC has released figures from a targeted compliance programme focusing on guiding and transport operators at high volume tourist sites in the South Island this summer.
Te WƒÅipounamu compliance initiative employed rangers on fixed term contracts to carry out checks on operators at Punakaiki, South Westland, Wanaka, Wakatipu and Te Anau. The initiative found that while most operators were working within their permit conditions, about a quarter were found to have either breached their conditions or were operating illegally.
In instances where the concessionaire was found to be in breach of their conditions, or an operator was found to be operating commercially without the required concession, DOC sent a compliance letter to the operator. This provided information on applying for either the relevant concession or a variation to an existing concession. Operators were given a deadline to complete the necessary actions or cease activity.
Non-responsive operators or complex cases were escalated for investigation by DOC’s National Compliance Team.
Southern South Island director Aaron Fleming says DOC is committed to ensuring people play by the rules when they interact with our wildlife and special places on public conservation land.
“We are responsible for managing more than a third of New Zealand’s land area and we want to make sure we are doing so in a way that supports and protects conservation and is fair for all users, including tourism operators – many of whom go above and beyond to contribute to the special places their businesses rely on," he says.
"Most operators work hard to ensure they are following the conditions of their permits. When operators don’t, it’s not only unfair to those following the rules, but poses a risk to our native places and species.
“We noticed that later in the season, once word spread that DOC was doing compliance checks, more operators started complying.
“Even commercial operators with existing concessions are being put on notice. If they breach the concession, DOC is prepared to suspend or terminate under the terms of the concession contracts.”
DOC’s National Compliance Strategy draws attention to the more than 4,000 permissions and concessions issued by DOC and the need to ensure operators comply with the concessions system which applies on public conservation land and in relation to marine mammal tourism.
The issue of non-compliance by commercial guiding companies who don’t obtain a concession is one focus area for DOC’s National Compliance Team, which has employed two full time investigators to handle concessions-related breaches of conservation law.
Aaron says that DOC will use the full force of the law if need be.
“We educate and inform in the first instance and follow up with penalties or court action if the behaviour is ongoing,” he says.
If you notice someone breaking the rules on conservation land, ring DOCHOT 0800 362 468. Illegal activity includes:
- illegal whitebaiting
- vandalism of huts and tracks
- removal of plants from reserves
- killing or catching native wildlife
- fishing in marine reserves
- disturbing marine mammals
- commercial guiding without a concession.