Department of Conservation (New Zealand)

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Department of Conservation
Māori: Te Papa Atawhai
Agency overview
Formed1 April 1987; 37 years ago (1 April 1987)
JurisdictionNew Zealand
HeadquartersConservation House,
18–32 Manners Street,
Wellington 6011
Employees2,413 FTE staff
(30 June 2020)[1]
Annual budgetTotal budget for 2019/20
Minister responsible
Agency executive
  • Penny Nelson, Director-General Edit this at Wikidata

The Department of Conservation (DOC; Māori: Te Papa Atawhai) is the public service department of New Zealand charged with the conservation of New Zealand's natural and historical heritage.

An advisory body, the New Zealand Conservation Authority (NZCA) is provided to advise DOC and its ministers.[3] In addition there are 15 conservation boards for different areas around the country that provide for interaction between DOC and the public.[4]

Functions and history[edit]


DOC signs of this format are commonly seen around New Zealand conservation areas.
DOC operates much of the backcountry tourist infrastructure of the country, such as this overnight hut on the Rakiura Track.

The department was formed on 1 April 1987, as one of several reforms of the public service, when the Conservation Act 1987[5] was passed to integrate some functions of the Department of Lands and Survey, the Forest Service and the Wildlife Service.[6] This act also set out the majority of the department's responsibilities and roles.

As a consequence of Conservation Act all Crown land in New Zealand designated for conservation and protection became managed by the Department of Conservation.[6] This is about 30% of New Zealand's land area or about 8 million hectares of native forests, tussocklands, alpine areas, wetlands, dunelands, estuaries, lakes and islands, national forests, maritime parks, marine reserves, nearly 4000 reserves, river margins, some coastline, and many offshore islands. All of the land under its control is protected for either conservation, ecological, scenic, scientific, historic or cultural reasons, and for recreation.[7]

Providing for recreation is a major part of its core work, and this covers the management of family picnic sites, as well as maintaining rugged backcountry tracks and over 1000 accompanying backcountry huts that are used by hunters and recreational trampers. DOC also administers the Nature Heritage Fund, and is responsible for supporting rural fire control by acting under the direction of Fire and Emergency New Zealand when a fire occurs on land it manages.[8] Up until June 2017, DOC was the designated fire authority for all land under its control.[9]

In addition to its work managing land and providing for recreation in New Zealand, DOC works to preserve its natural heritage. This includes preservation of historic sites on public conservation land, saving native threatened species, managing threats like pests and weeds, environmental restoration, caring for marine life, and assisting landowners to effectively preserve natural heritage.

The methods of achieving these goals have resulted in controversy, where some people claim that the Department of Conservation is overly biased towards environmentalists at the expense of New Zealand's economy. This is particularly a concern amongst some farmers and other industries that are major users of neighbouring land, many of whom have been affected by decisions of the department. However, these criticised DOC efforts have also been lauded for achieving some success, for both conservationists and farmers, having led to a significant drop in possum populations during the last decades.

The DOC was floated as the agency to supervise the construction of the proposed New Zealand Cycleway,[10] though this is now being managed primarily by the Ministry of Tourism, in coordination with the DOC where appropriate.

After a number of years of falling budgets, in 2013 the department announced it would be slashing 140 jobs and narrowing its 11-region structure into six.[11]

As part of New Zealand's programme of economic recovery post the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic and the following economic downturn DOC is working alongside the Ministry for the Environment, Department of Conservation, Ministry for Primary Industries, Land Information New Zealand and Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment to fund a number of temporary projects with the objective of creating jobs and assisting New Zealand's efforts to further protect the environment.[12] As of June 2023 the project, entitled "Jobs For Nature", has employed 4,694 individuals over 193 projects.[13] The programme's investment is estimated to be worth approximately NZ$1.19Billion, with the projects undertaken focused on providing temporary employment as well benefit the environment, people, and regional New Zealand.[12]

In April 2024, the department proposed slashing 130 roles as part of efforfs to meet Government budget sepnding cut targets of 6.5%. In addition, DOC must also find NZ$7.2 million to meet cost operating pressures. The proposed job cuts include 24 "Biodiversity, Heritage & Visitors" roles, 22 Policy & Regulatory services roles, 18 public affairs roles and 54 Regional Operations support roles.[14]


The Department of Conservation moved into a new headquarters, Conservation House, on Manners Street, Wellington in 2006. It is the first green building in New Zealand to be given a 5-star rating, having won numerous environmental awards, including a top 10 placing by Grist Magazine.[15] The site was originally a cinema complex operated by the Hoyts Group from the mid-1980s until the early 2000s, when it closed down in the face of stiff competition.[16]

Conservation land[edit]

New Zealand has 13 national parks, and a wide number of other conservation lands with varying levels of environmental protection, called the "conservation estate" in total.[17] About one third of this estate, generally the land considered most valuable, has been protected from mining since 1997 via being listed in Schedule 4 of the Crown Minerals Act 1991 (though recent (2010) moves by the Fifth National Government have proposed exemption some areas from Schedule 4).[17]

While much of the conservation land not protected as national parks or Schedule 4 land is much more damaged or human-modified than the core conservation areas, these areas serve as boundary and species buffer zones.[17]


Cave Creek disaster[edit]

In 1995, 14 people died when a viewing platform maintained by the Department of Conservation collapsed. Immediately following the tragedy, all of the department's 106 viewing platforms throughout New Zealand were checked. Fifteen platforms were closed for repairs.[18]

A Commission of Inquiry that followed the tragedy revealed that the department had acted illegally and negligently in constructing the viewing platform. The commission also stated that the department was seriously underfunded for the tasks with which it was delegated, resulting in a culture of sub-standard safety procedures having been used for the building and maintenance of some of its facilities.[19]

Many people in New Zealand criticised the government for the department's situation, and Denis Marshall, the presiding Minister of Conservation at the time, eventually resigned over the incident. Since the inquiry, radical changes have been made to the department's procedures to prioritise safety, including the implementation of a comprehensive asset management system to catalogue, track and trigger regular inspections of all significant structures and facilities managed by the department.

Raoul Island eruption[edit]

In March 2006, a volcanic eruption at the Green Lake of Raoul Island, administered by the Department of Conservation, was believed to have killed DOC worker Mark Kearney. At the exact time of the eruption, Kearney is thought to have been taking temperature measurements of the lake as part of a programme for monitoring volcanic activity. Five other DOC workers, who were also living on the island, were forced to evacuate back to New Zealand shortly after the eruption. Searches for Kearney, which have been inhibited by the island's remote location and the risks of further volcanic activity, have since failed to find any signs of him.

List of directors-general[edit]

Directors-General of DOC (Chief Executive) are:

No. Name Portrait Term of office
1 Ken Piddington April 1987 March 1988
- Peter Bygate
March 1988 August 1988
2 David McDowell August 1988 October 1989
- Peter Bygate
November 1989 February 1990
3 Bill Mansfield February 1990 May 1997
4 Hugh Logan May 1997 May 2006
5 Al Morrison November 2006 September 2013[20]
6 Lou Sanson September 2013[21] September 2021
- Bruce Parkes
September 2021 November 2021
7 Penny Nelson November 2021[22] present

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "FTE employees by department". Workforce data. Public Service Commission. 30 June 2020. Archived from the original on 20 January 2021. Retrieved 9 December 2020.
  2. ^ "Total Appropriations for Each Vote". Budget 2019. The Treasury. 30 May 2019.
  3. ^ "New Zealand Conservation Authority - NZCA". Department of Conservation.
  4. ^ "Conservation Boards". Department of Conservation.
  5. ^ "Conservation Act 1987". Parliamentary Counsel Office.
  6. ^ a b Nathan, Simon (2 March 2009). "Conservation – a history - Changing organisations and ideas, 1985–2006". Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand. Retrieved 31 May 2012.
  7. ^ Popay, Ian (1 March 2009). "Weeds of agriculture - Weeds in water and in ecosystems". Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand. Retrieved 31 May 2012.
  8. ^ "Fighting fires with dedicated DOC staff | Conservation blog". 8 September 2017.
  9. ^ "Fighting fires with dedicated DOC staff | Conservation blog". 8 September 2017.
  10. ^ Field, Michael (2 March 2009). "Best job ideas in Budget round - English". Stuff. Fairfax. Retrieved 28 September 2011.
  11. ^ "DOC to cut 140 jobs". 3 News NZ. 26 March 2013.
  12. ^ a b "Jobs for nature". Ministry for the Environment. 31 March 2023. Retrieved 22 June 2023.
  13. ^ "Jobs for Nature – Mahi mō te Taiao". Retrieved 22 June 2023.
  14. ^ "DOC proposes cutting 130 roles to meet Govt demand for savings". 1 News. TVNZ. 10 April 2024. Archived from the original on 10 April 2024. Retrieved 12 April 2024.
  15. ^ "No 9 In the World". The Wellington Company. 2012. Archived from the original on 13 January 2015. Retrieved 5 June 2008.
  16. ^ "Conservation House". The Wellington Company. 2012. Retrieved 5 June 2008.
  17. ^ a b c Cumming, Geoff (6 March 2010). "Miners press to enter the green zone". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 26 March 2010.
  18. ^ New Zealand disasters - Cave Creek Christchurch City Council Library website, viewed 5/9/2007
  19. ^ Commission of inquiry Cave Creek report Archived 18 February 2013 at the Wayback Machine, Review the Commission of Inquiry into the collapse of a viewing platform at Cave Creek near Punakaiki on the West Coast. Judge Noble's report, Published: 1995. DOC website, accessed 17 December 2012.
  20. ^ "Al Morrison leaving Conservation Dept, joining State Services Commission". 24 April 2013. Retrieved 22 September 2020.
  21. ^ Turner, Anna (7 August 2013). "DOC appoints new chief executive". Retrieved 22 September 2020.
  22. ^ Green, Kate (1 September 2021). "Penny Nelson appointed as new director-general of Department of Conservation". Retrieved 11 September 2021.

External links[edit]