Nelson Residents Association


Opinion - D McGuire

Nelson’s ratepayers should not be saddled with Sanctuary costs

by Dan McGuire, itinerant environmentalist from San Francisco

Appeared in Nelson Mail Nov 3, 2012


I commend the excellent work of the Brook Sanctuary volunteers and support the excellent work of the sanctuary which is showing increased native bird numbers.

However, for valid and incontestable reasons, I totally oppose the use of Nelson ratepayer funds to pay for the predator fence. It’s certain that the cost of the fence will be far higher than what is being projected currently - and, given the terrain, there’s no question that ongoing maintenance costs will always be a substantial burden.

The silliest fact of all is that such a fence would be a completely retrograde step for the sanctuary - which fact, to date, doesn’t seem to have entered the calculations of the blind enthusiasts who’re driving the issue, in any way, shape or form. I state this in regard to the program of trapping that’s been carried out for some time now by volunteers at the Maitai Dam, the Brook and at Marsden Valley, results of which have more than demonstrated that trapping is the most intelligent and cost-effective method for reducing predators and increasing bird numbers around the sanctuary.

Given that the traplines are now consistently showing very slim returns, an anti-predator fence could achieve very little more. In fact, the overall situation would actually be very much worsened if the self-same traps were afterwards to be set only within the fenced-off area, because the environment OUTSIDE the fence would soon resort back to the formerly uncontrolled predator growth situation.

Thus the enormous outlay proposed for construction of the fence cannot in any way be justified if measured against the marginal additional benefit that might be rendered. Outside the enthusiasts’ dreams, the actuality is that, on such rugged terrain, the construction of a fence approaches the stuff of nightmares and - as I mentioned earlier in respect of maintenance costs - it would take only one tall tree (and there are many) to fall or be blown down in a gale to undo years of work if predators from the uncontrolled numbers outside the fence were to gain admittance.

To uphold its “case” the trust uses facilities like the Nelson Provincial Museum and Zealandia, the Karori wildlife sanctuary in Wellington, as benchmarks. Nelson’s museum has had huge cost overruns which Nelson and Tasman ratepayers have had to sustain - ie. pay for - and despite substantial visitor charges to enter the Karori sanctuary – adults $28.50, children $14.50, families $71.50 - it is running huge yearly deficits which Wellington’s ratepayers have had to shoulder. The deficit for the 2011-12 year was $1.4 million dollars, so it’s not remotely feasible to equate Nelson and Karori - let alone to attempt to compare their potential, or the lack of it.

Of further significance is the fact that, unlike the Brook, the Karori sanctuary is surrounded by rolling countryside which enabled the construction of its 8.6 kilometre anti-predator fence to be pretty-well straightforward. However the surroundings of Zealandia are nothing like the rocky terrain that surrounds the Brook sanctuary with its rugged edges and faces – and, although Karori’s fence has a design flaw - it’s not mouse-proof - compared to what’s proposed for Nelson, its maintenance is both simple and straightforward.

Those behind the Brook Sanctuary project project that it would have some 30,000 visitors a year, paying a substantial entry fee to enter. All that can be said is that these figures are completely unrealistic projections of the site’s potential. The trust’s “calculations” also depend on substantial continued input from working volunteers - yet recent emails to volunteers have revealed that volunteer numbers are not now as forthcoming as they once were.

Over the last 15 years, the Nelson City Council has committed to numerous projects - almost all of which have resulted in dumping heavier financial liabilities on Nelson’s ratepayers. As has been indicated in the nonsensical figures submitted by enthusiasts who seem completely careless as to whether or not another economic burden will be landed on Nelson’s ratepayers, the predator fence shows every hallmark and indication of being yet another such liability.

While the work of the Sanctuary deserves support, to be acceptable to Nelson’s ratepayers it must be made clear and unequivocal before the first sod is turned (more appropriately – before the first rock is drilled) that Nelson ratepayers will not be saddled with yet another white elephant project - and more financial liability.