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High Country Review “Unlikely to Reach Completion”

High Country Review “Unlikely to Reach Completion”

A prominent conservation biologist says the Government’s review of high country land ownership is looking increasingly shaky now that the easiest negotiations have been completed.

Dr David Norton of the University of Canterbury’s Forestry School, says the idea of separating the high country into areas of farm land and an increased conservation estate is too narrow to produce a durable solution.

In a keynote address to the Environment Institute of Australia and New Zealand, Norton says the current process is ideologically driven and fails to acknowledge the potential for land owners to contribute to conservation objectives.

It was likely the current process would result in an increase in invasive plant species in conservation areas, loss of biodiversity on freehold land through intensification of land use, and a loss of landscape connection affecting overall biodiversity.

He says there were clear parallels between tenure review and the Government’s intervention into native forest harvesting by Timberlands. “Splitting the high country into two types of land, one for production and one for conservation, is an approach based on ideology. In practice there is a need for a range of approaches, including an approach which recognises the landowners’ role.

Norton advocates the use of integrated farm management plans, which are supported by farmers and landowners but opposed by the Department of Conservation, The Royal Forest and Bird Society and the Minister of Conservation.

“It’s something of a cliché, but the issue is one of ownership. When landowners are left out of the planning process there is a reluctance to own a centralized solution.

“Some of the negotiations have been concluded satisfactorily, but there are signs that the outcomes are not so good recently.”

Norton says it’s difficult to see any benefits in the government having another 1-2 million hectares of land to manage. Funding for land management would be the first thing in the conservation budget to go if the economy stalled.

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