New penalties for releasing pests in to sanctuaries

  • Chris Carter

Tough new prison terms and fines are to be introduced for people who sabotage New Zealand's wildlife sanctuaries, Conservation Minister Chris Carter announced today.

"Cabinet has agreed to lift the penalties in the Reserves Act, the Conservation Act and the National Parks Act as part of efforts to bolster the Department of Conservation's ability to protect New Zealand's natural heritage," Mr Carter said.

"At present a person who releases a stoat on to a nature reserve like Codfish Island, as some one threatened to do recently, is liable to a maximum sentence of one month in prison or a $500 fine.

"Plainly, this penalty is pathetic compared with the severe consequences such an action could have for world famous conservation sanctuaries the New Zealand taxpayer has spent millions of dollars developing," Mr Carter said.

"The Government is to introduce legislation to Parliament before the end of the year to increase this penalty to a maximum of one year in prison or a fine of $100,000. Doing so will bring conservation law more into line with other environmental legislation, notably the Biosecurity Act, which already carries tough penalties for the illegal release of unwanted organisms, such as pest fish."

Mr Carter said the new penalties would also apply to individuals caught illegally releasing wild animals into conservation areas.

Pigs were recently found in the Kepler Mountains of Fiordland, an area they could only have got to with the help of humans.

"Pigs are enormously destructive to native species, particularly ground dwelling birds. The presence of them in the Kepler's puts at risk Fiordland's population of takahe. This new legislation should send the message that endangering some of our most threatened and iconic native species is not acceptable," Mr Carter said.

The proposed Bill, titled the Conservation Law Reform Bill, will also empower Fisheries, Customs, Police and NZ Defence Force personnel to monitor conservation areas.