Sanctuary’s blow

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By GUY WILLIAMS

The consortium behind a $30 million plan to eradicate or intensively control predators across a vast swathe of the Queenstown Lakes district is back to square one after a series
of funding setbacks.

The Southern Lakes Sanctuary, unveiled in Mountain Scene last May, is aimed at eradicating  possums, rats and mustelids across a 660,000ha area between Lakes  Whakatipu and Hawea to create a sanctuary for more than 20 threatened or at-risk bird and lizard species.

It was also intended to be a lifeline for adventure tourism workers who’d lost their jobs as a
result of the Covid-19 pandemic, creating more than 100 jobs.

But late last year, after six months of intensive fundraising work, the consortium was forced to relinquish an offer of $8m from Predator Free 2050 (PF2050) because it couldn’t
secure matching funds from other sources.

The consortium, led by the Whakatipu Wildlife Trust, includes the Routeburn Dart Wildlife Trust, Central Otago Lakes Forest & Bird, Wanaka Backyard Trapping as well as about 50 community trapping groups in the Whakatipu.

Whakatipu Wildlife Trust executive officer Leslie Van Gelder says it received an offer of
$8m from PF2050, in July, on the condition it match that amount with other funding.

PF2050 is a Crown company set up in 2017 to fund large, landscape-scale predator eradication projects.

The consortium then applied to the Department of Conservation (DoC) for $15m over five
years from the $1.25 billion Jobs for Nature Fund on the understanding it could use that
money to match the PF2050 offer.

‘We’re back to square one’

Starting from scratch: Whakatipu Wildlife Trust executive officer Leslie Van Gelder says it took five months to find out they can’t match Crown funding with other Crown funding for the Southern Lakes Sanctuary project

It wasn’t until November it was told that Crown funding couldn’t be matched with other Crown funding, despite senior DoC managers in Wellington being aware of that since June, Van Gelder says.

‘‘For some reason, that information did not filter down to us.

‘‘We would’ve looked for non-Crown money to match the Predator Free money instead of spending all that time thinking that Jobs for Nature was going to do that.’’

DoC southern South Island boss Aaron Fleming admits ‘‘things could’ve been done differently’’.

When it received the consortium’s July application, it was still in the process of setting up a framework for assessing proposals for the newly-created Jobs for Nature Fund, Fleming says.

Lessons learned: DoC southern South Island boss Aaron Fleming admits things “could have been done differently”

‘‘Unfortunately, Crown funding cannot be matched by Crown funding.

‘‘We became aware of the potential conflict in mid-October, and communicated with the consortium in early November.

‘‘We’ve acknowledged to the consortium that things could’ve been done differently, and importantly, we’re now working with them to help reframe their proposal, knowing what we now know.’’

The Southern Lakes Sanctuary is an ‘‘exciting’’ proposal that DoC supports in principle, he
says.

Van Gelder says DoC subsequently made an indicative offer of $900,000 from the Kaimahi for Nature fund, a $200m subset of the Jobs for Nature Fund.

However, the consortium now plans to apply for money from a new body considering applications for Kaimahi for Nature, the Southern South Island Alliance, which then makes recommendations to DoC.

The consortium will ask for $3m, over three years, out of the $24.5m available for projects in Otago and Southland.

‘‘Our hope is that [Conservation Minister Kiri Allan] will recognise and understand the significance of our region.’’

It also remains confident of getting funding from the ‘‘hugely supportive’’ PF2050 in the future, provided it can find other sources of money, including from regional charities or
philanthropists.

‘‘They would love to be able to find a way to work with us.’’

Van Gelder says the consortium’s original vision wasn’t too ambitious, just ‘‘visionary’’.

While its members are frustrated by the setbacks, the experience has brought them closer
together, and they will soon form a Southern Lakes Sanctuary Trust.

‘‘Last year was challenging for everybody, but I think we’re people who hold that big vision and we haven’t lost that at all.’’

If its application to the Alliance is successful, it’ll use the money in the first year to ‘‘amplify’’ the work of the consortium’s many community trapping groups, and develop a detailed technical plan for the next 10 years.

guy.williams@scene.co.nz