Regional | Environment

‘Nature underpins the nation’s economy’: Māori land restoration groups react to funding cuts

Nature underpins the nation’s economy - that’s what a Māori land restoration group is saying after a $55 million funding cut to the Jobs for Nature program.

The programme, established by the previous Labour government, supports nature-based employment across the country, creating over 12,000 jobs in the past three years.

The Raukumara Pae Maunga Restoration Project (RPMRP) is one of many groups that have benefited from this initiative. Its governor, Ora Barlow, says “life as we know it depends on nature”.

“When nature lacks resilience to holding onto its land, it landslides us into massive impacts ... like what we saw with [Cyclone] Gabrielle where homes, marae, people’s lives and nature [were] severely impacted.”

This project, which is a partnership between Ngāti Porou, Te Whānau a Apanui and the Department of Conservation (DoC), is said to be the largest iwi-led restoration project of its kind in the country.

It uses a range of restorative practices - deer and goat culling, pest trapping, monitoring, aerial 1080 comms and engagement programmes, and revitalising the Raukumara Forest.

Barlow says these funding cuts this fall short of what the government really wants to do, which is growing the economy.

“Jobs for Nature was the Covid response to stimulate the economy, to put food on the table for families, to put people in jobs,” she says.

“All of our primary industries depend on nature, they’re closely tied to the overall performance of nature.”

Mōuri Tūroa in Whanganui is another Māori restoration group on board with Jobs for Nature.

The group aims to mitigate soil erosion, improve water quality, and enhance biodiversity within the Whanganui River catchment.

Spokesperson Nancy Tuaine says it gives people the opportunity to stay home and be employed.

“It made sense - that’s why we entered into [the programme] in the first place,

“Iwi across the nation [are] able to contribute to the improvement of land practices.”

Tuaine says nature-based employment is especially vital for communities like Whanganui, which facse issues with the sediment in their river.

“We have seven tonnes of sediment that gathers down here in the Wanganui City Harbor area.

“Now that’s a long-term problem. If we’re going to solve that, it isn’t going to happen in the term of Jobs for Nature. The investment must occur over time and it needs to be significant.”

Former conservation minister Kiritapu Allan, reflects on the purpose of this initiative that she helped spearhead in 2021.

“Ko te tino kaupapa ki ahau, ki a mātau te Kāwana i [mua] i tēnei, ki te whakaora [i] tō tātau whenua, ki te whakaora i ngā iwi Māori”.

(The main focus for us in our previous government was to revive the land and revive our Māori people.)

Although this programme was launched as part of the Covid-19 recovery package, Allan says it is still relevant today: “Because what we’re talking about in this current climate is ensuring our economy lifts. Our economy lifts when people are in good jobs.

“The challenge I would put to the current government is: How are we assessing all of the benefits that come through from a programme like Jobs for Nature”.

Mōuri Tūroa is currently strategising and mapping out the future of the programme.

And RPMRP says it will continue until 2026.