Dulux has partnered with the Department of Conservation to provide paint and wood coating products in a bid to preserve backcountry huts. It's a smart PR trick for Dulux, but it's a move that could signal the end of public conservation funding and the beginning of conservation for profit.
The partnership will be worth $1.5 million and will benefit 973 huts and lodges over the next three years.
Director general of DoC Al Morrison yesterday announced the partnership at a function at Konini Lodge on Taranaki, which will be one of the first DoC properties to benefit from a lick of paint.
“They are special places that international visitors and New Zealanders like to come to and we want the huts to look good when people arrive,” Morrison said.
Five paint palettes will be available to “complement the unique surroundings of each hut”. Many old former Forest Service huts are an iconic bright shade of orange – such as Ballard Hut in the Kawekas, pictured – so history-loving punters may not be overly chuffed should it disappear under the partnership. (Idealog has requested the palettes, TBC.)
UPDATED: DoC media advisor Reuben Williams confirms both the existence of the colour and its truly bodacious name: "All the colours that have tradiotionally [sic] been used on the huts will be matched by Dulux and made avaialble [sic] for use on the hut network. This includes the DOC orange which will remain and will be known as 'DOC Rescue Orange'."
Recent cuts to DoC’s budget have put into question the viability of the system in the long-term.
Federated Mountain Clubs president Robin McNeill last year said the great outdoors is part of every New Zealander's heritage and "should not be disposed of through expedience", and that cuts to DoC's budget and uncertainty in its structural organisation could impact on the department's ability to maintain its huts and tracks.
"For what the department does it is desperately underfunded," McNeill said.
The shift to corporate partnerships in conservation has been expected by conservation commentators, and not necessarily for the better.
“In recent years there has been such a strong push towards supporting tourism and making money within the Department of Conservation that one could be forgiven for thinking the aim of the Conservation Act is to facilitate business partnerships and generate income,” wrote commentator Geoff Spearpoint in a piece for Wilderness magazine last year.
In response to this story, Williams said $18.27 million was spent in the 2011/2012 business year to sustain the back country hut network.
"This includes maintenance costs [and] servicing costs. This was a one-million dollar increase on the previous year and that funding will remain in place.
"DOC is committed to its core recreation work and will not be doing less or spending less on recreation as result of this partnership and the funding for servicing conservation huts will remain. We will be able to do more as a result of this partnership."