Seven-fold increase in DOC land destroyed by wild fires concerning

The area of Department of Conservation (DOC) land burned in unwanted fires is rising rapidly yet the agency is doing just the bare minimum to protect land and has taken no accountability, National’s Fire and Emergency Spokesperson Todd Muller says.

“Fire and Emergency New Zealand has responded to at least 109 fires on DOC land since the 2019/20 fire season destroying more than 13,600 hectares of Public Conservation lands over the past three years. To-date, that’s a seven-fold increase on the 2,003 hectares destroyed by wildfires for three years period before 2019/20.

“Cracks in the management of unwanted fires on DOC land started to show when regulatory control over Public Conservation Lands was transferred from DOC to FENZ in 2017.

“Since then DOC has essentially taken a hands-off approach to fire management on its land. DOC has reduced its funding from a ten-year average annual spend of $10.4 million before 2017/18 to a current annual average of $3.6 million for the past three years.

“It has also significantly decreased resources for rural fires, now owning no hill and high country fire-fighting equipment, having fewer trained firefighters now than in 2017 and retaining only a small number of trained fire managers.

“The problem with FENZ picking up all the slack is that they don’t have the same capabilities to fight rural fires as DOC did prior to 2017. For example, FENZ only has one senior line manager in the top three tiers of management with experience in rural land management.

“DOC is also failing to take accountability for poor fire protection of its land.

“Following the 2020 Lake Ōhau fire which destroyed 48 buildings and burnt more than 5,000 hectares, then-Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage rejected public claims that overgrown, dry vegetation on poorly managed DOC land allowed the fire to get so out of control.

“DOC and FENZ need to take ownership of fires on DOC land, rather than just pointing at each other to solve the problem.”