Environment Waikato and Waipa District Council yesterday signed a formal agreement to help fund one of New Zealand’s flagship conservation projects aimed at protecting habitat for native plants and birds on Maungatautari.
The Maungatautari project has overseen the development of a 47km-long predator-proof fence surrounding the 3400ha Maungatautari mountain reserve, near Cambridge, and the removal of introduced predatory pests such as possums, stoats and rats. Native plants and birds now flourish on Mangatautari, with kiwi, takahe, kaka and stitchbirds having been returned to the mountain.
The memorandum of understanding (MoU) signed by regional council chairman Peter Buckley and Waipa mayor Alan Livingston sets out the councils’ responsibilities for the maintenance of the pest-proof fence and the management of pests on the mountain.
"A committed trust and hugely supportive community have done a superb job in creating what is now an environmentally iconic reserve. But there is a cost in maintaining the predator proof fence and removing mammalian pests from within the island. This agreement gives them certainty for the next three years," said Mr Livingston.
Under the MoU, the councils will contract the Maungatautari Ecological Island Trust to maintain the fence and manage pests at a cost to each council of $300,000 a year.
The councils believe the trust’s extensive volunteer network help to keep operational and maintenance costs low and they want to maintain the high level of community ownership and involvement in the project.
Cr Buckley said the councils and the Crown had an important role to play in protecting the community’s investment in the Maungatautari project.
"Maungatautari is first and foremost a valuable community asset that has captured the imagination and support of the public," he said.
"It is an ambitious conservation project of unprecedented scale and what happens on Maungatautari will be crucial to the future direction of conservation in New Zealand," Mr Buckley said.
The councils say their joint $600,000 annual contribution is unlikely to cover all the costs of the project and they have asked the Minister of Conservation to contribute a third of the total costs over the next three years. About 2530ha of the 3400ha mountain is Crown land.
The memorandum of understanding sets out public accountability through two groups. The first, a joint working group of Environment Waikato, Waipa District and the Department of Conservation to review and recommend work plans for fence maintenance and pest management. The second is Waipa District’s Maungatautari Reserve Management Committee which has the wider governance role for the reserve area and will report regularly to the two councils.