Scenery preservation 1903-1953

Page 8 – New administration

The Scenery Preservation Board

The Scenery Preservation Commission was disbanded in 1906 because the government had found that some 'simpler machinery was necessary to more effectively carry out the purposes of the Act'. It also seems that the commission's enthusiasm for reservations clashed with the dominant idea that farming and forestry were more important than preserving scenery. Opponents such as sawmillers, local bodies and farmers who saw it as depriving them of timber, land and revenue viewed the commission's annual expenses of around ₤2000 as excessive.

In place of the commission, the Scenery Preservation Board was formed in 1906, comprised of salaried government servants. Local departmental officers were expected to undertake inspections, surveys and reporting. This 'simpler machinery' was meant to produce savings in administering the 1903 act. This was not to be the case. By 1913 the board was spending five times what the commission ever had on surveys and valuations, despite recommending fewer new sites for reservation.

As the push for preservation was reined in under the administration of the Department of Lands, for the next decade and a half much of the board's work consisted of working through the earlier reports of the commission. The board only sought scenic reserves located on main travel arteries for easy accessibility. Priority went into creating reserves along the North Island railway main trunk line and the Whanganui River. Reservations in the Marlborough Sounds and West Coast were of lesser priority for encouraging tourism. More importantly, it targeted only lands that were not suitable for productive farm land.

Even the transfer of responsibility for scenic reserves from the Tourist and Health Resorts Department to the Department of Lands in 1906 did not assuage such fears. In the 1910s, the board's activities were increasingly dominated by the secretary of the State Forest Service, who favoured forestry over scenery preservation.

After the last of the ₤100,000 provided for scenery preservation under the 1903 act was spent in the early 1920s, financing the creation of reserves fell entirely to the discretion of the minister of lands. The number of new reserves slowed down significantly, and most new reserves from this period on were created on Crown land.

It was not all bad news. From the 1920s overdue improvements were made to the management and maintenance of reserves. Some early sites had been destroyed by uncontrolled burn-off of adjacent land or by cattle encroachment. The Department of Lands and Survey now started controlling pests, initially deer, then possums. By the late 1940s the board had enrolled over 600 honorary reserve rangers.

Growing support for ecological reservation also saw Harry Ell's earlier ideas gain traction. In 1915, for example, the board published Leonard Cockayne's list of rare ferns and flowering plants. That led to the development of the reserve network on Christchurch's Port Hills and encouraged the promotion of other reserves for specific flora and fauna values.