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Advocate . . . Forest and Bird New Zealand chief executive Kevin Hague spoke to members of the organisation's Waitaki branch this week. PHOTO: DANIEL BIRCHFIELD

A lack of political commitment to conservation and the environment worries Forest and Bird New Zealand chief executive Kevin Hague, who visited Oamaru this week.

Mr Hague spoke to members of the Waitaki branch of Forest and Bird at its annual meeting at the Oamaru Public Library, where he outlined the organisation’s concerns and wishes in the lead-up to September’s general election.

Speaking to the Oamaru MailĀ before Monday’s meeting, he said there was “no political commitment to conservation or environmental protection work” from the Government in terms of funding, and believed there was “a crisis” when it came to issues that involved fresh water.

“The Department of Conservation has half of less than 1% of the overall budget in funding and the department is really struggling to be able to mind all of the species and places New Zealanders hold dear.

“There’s also a crisis in fresh water, in terms of over-allocation and pollution. It will be interesting to see, in the Budget, what the Government does for baseline funding.”

He believed the Government’s fresh water policy, which had the aim of making all of New Zealand’s lakes and rivers swimmable by 2040, amounted to a “shifting of the goalposts” as opposed to real change, as its aim did not include “90% of our waterways”.

Mr Hague said the general election was the ideal stage for people concerned about the environment to make a stand.

“How is it that when something like 85% of New Zealanders say that looking after the environment is of personal importance to them, that’s not a language politicians can understand?”

He said the various Forest and Bird branches around the country also had a part to play, and the Waitaki branch was a “leader” in terms of its local input.

“It’s a pretty lively branch doing some important projects around pest control, its nursery and plantings. Your branch here is always involved in advocating on local issues too, and that is always a focus for us.

“We want our members to be talking directly to political candidates and parties, and we need that involvement around the community with community groups .. they just don’t realise this thing that is important to them is not being well managed.”

Mr Hague, a former member of Parliament for the Greens, was appointed Forest and Bird chief executive in September.