How Many People is Enough?

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How Many People is Enough?

by Tony Orman

The other day we headed up the upper reaches of the Wairau to “Rainbow Country”. The rainbow aspect is derived from the high country station called the Rainbow and from a major tributary in the upper reaches. The trout are actually browns. A private road runs up the valley. The road gives access to a wilderness river that has all the intangibles you want.

Except for one thing. It’s a popular haunt for fishing guides and their clients. In fact, too popular, might be a better description. One nearby lodge alone, employs eleven guides. It’s so competitive some guides no longer go there. Fish adapt to excessive rod pressure and constant disturbance by altering their feeding pattern. It may be they revert to those times when 99% of anglers have gone home, or they forsake their shallow water positions to feed in deeper runs and pools. Undoubtedly by the latter, the quality of fly fishing is diminished.

Really the cause is about people. Numbers of people. Numbers of tourists. Former tourist minister John Key was addicted to growth, and in the case of tourism, growth of tourist numbers. No thought to quality but to sheer numbers, i.e. quantity. As a result freedom cameras have mushroomed in numbers. Having worked in public relations marketing in tourism for several years, NZ should have been concentrating on quality tourists, i.e. affluent ones sending thousands of dollars a day, not just $50 a day or less as a freedom camper usually does. And of course there;’s the mess which freedom campers often over-nighting by rivers can leave. Things like excreta and stained toilet paper. I’ve encountered those remains on the Lindis River in central Otago and in Hawkes Bay.

New Zealand has about 4.3 million people at present. I’ve been concerned for some years that we have no population policy and governments are mesmerised by maximum growth with no planned goal. Just grow and grow. How often do you hear someone advocating that to cure economic woes “we need for people.” Such advocates even plump for a population of 10 million.

Logically that will mean more than double the number of trout fishers. At least, double the number of guides? Think of the current fishing pressure with just 4.3 million. Imagine with 10 million people. One of my early mentors was the late John Henderson, president in the 1960s and 1970s of the NZ Deerstalkers Association. He gave me valuable lessons on deerstalking — and politics and dry fly fishing on the Wairarapa streams like the Makakihi and Tararua Range wilderness rivers. But it was in his often brilliantly perceptive presidential addresses to NZDa conference that he revealed his political alertness, foresight and his 1970 address, he told delegates,

“It’s high time, New Zealanders set themselves an upper limit to their numbers, and I have no hesitation in tabling my own estimate - it is 5 million people.”

He told delegates he had arrived at the 5 million figure by arguing that “if the environmental problems we are facing today are doubled and our available living space halved—it will be intolerable”.

Well that was 1970—45 years ago. Where are we now in 2018 as we are poised to reach John’s 5 million limit?? Well for starters, according to one university, 62% of our rivers are not fit for swimming in.

The last government intended to weakening the yardstick of the Resource Management Act for rivers by inserting “fit for wading or boating.” After all, wearing waders I could wade in a sewage pond and suffer no ill effects. And I could boat on a sewage pond.

The Council of Outdoor Recreation Associations of NZ (CORANZ) produced an election charter for the 2014 election. Two points are very relevant to the subject:-

• Establish a population policy for New Zealand - relative to national, regional, cultural conflicts and immigration aspects and with full awareness and recognition, that people put demands on resources, both land, water, fishery and other resources for recreation or commercial use and infrastructure.
• The index for national prosperity, Gross Domestic Product (GDP) based on solely economic indicators, be replaced by a Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI) based on three values - social, environmental and economic to thus fully measure the quality of life.

Think about it.