General policy statement
The Wildlife Act 1953 (the Act) classifies and provides for the management of New Zealand’s land, freshwater, and marine species (but does not apply to domestic animals and birds, marine mammals, freshwater fish, or plants). It absolutely protects most native birds, all native reptiles, frogs, and bats, some specified native land and marine invertebrates, and 8 marine fish species. This means that, without proper authorisation, the species cannot be collected from the wild, hunted, killed, possessed (alive or dead), held in captivity, sold, or exported.
The Act also provides for the management of game birds (eg, mallard ducks, grey ducks, pukeko) by the New Zealand Fish and Game Council, and it is illegal to (for example) hunt or kill game birds in a closed season or without a licence.
The Act provides enforcement powers and penalties, but offences regularly occur. For example, New Zealanders have been prosecuted for taking or killing protected birds (eg, kereru, kiwi, oystercatchers, gulls, herons, plovers, and shags), catching weka in improperly set possum traps, and taking dogs into wildlife refuges, and since 2010, 7 foreign nationals have been convicted of attempted smuggling involving 68 endangered geckos. Such offending, even at low levels, can significantly affect native species already threatened by introduced predators and habitat loss.
Deterrence against offending can potentially be promoted by social expectations and peer pressure, by the likelihood of offenders being apprehended and prosecuted, and by the potential consequences of conviction. The latter was addressed in 2013 by the Conservation (Natural Heritage Protection) Act 2013, which significantly increased penalties in the Wildlife Act 1953 and 5 other conservation-related Acts. The Department of Conservation (DOC) also carries out many activities to promote awareness of New Zealand’s wildlife and protected natural areas.
The objective of this Bill is to reduce offending against wildlife by improving the powers available to effectively detect and investigate offences and apprehend offenders.
The Bill focuses on gaps in the powers in the Act that hinder effective enforcement, and on inconsistencies with other conservation legislation that make it difficult for rangers to use common best practice.
The Bill includes 4 standard powers to address these gaps as follows:
the power to intervene to prevent or stop offending: this power allows a ranger to prevent an offence (eg, by removing an illegally set trap) if the officer believes on reasonable grounds that the person is committing or is about to commit an offence:
the power to stop a person: rangers currently have powers under the Act to stop vehicles, vessels, and bags or other items in transit that are believed to be involved in the offending that is being investigated, but do not have the power to stop people. The latter power can be necessary in order to question a person or exercise other enforcement powers, for example, in situations where the person is trying to evade a ranger or to hide evidence of offending:
the power to require suspected offenders to give their date of birth and evidence of their identification: this power is necessary to support investigations and file prosecutions in courts:
the power to seize a wider range of materials used in the commission of an offence or that may be evidence of an offence: this power will help officers to build a case and assist the court, or to prove intent if an offence is commercially motivated.
The Bill also provides a limited power of arrest that will enable an enforcement officer to temporarily arrest a suspected offender until the officer can deliver the suspect into Police custody.
The Department of Conservation’s and the New Zealand Fish and Game Council’s enforcement officers currently have access to the same existing enforcement powers under the Act. The 4 new standard powers in the Bill would be available to full-time DOC rangers in relation to all offences under the Act, but would not be available to fish and game rangers or to honorary or part-time DOC rangers.
The power of arrest is limited to specifically warranted DOC rangers and officers from other central government agencies who partner with DOC in joint agency operations and who have sufficient and suitable experience and expertise. It is also limited to serious offences in relation to absolutely protected wildlife, and obstruction of officers investigating those offences.