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Biodiversity, Sustainability and Timberlands

Mayors from the three West Coast councils are to meet tomorrow to discuss what action can be taken over Labour's gagging of Timberland's resource management application to log the beech forest. Scoop's West Coast correspondent John Howard writes.

Living on the West Coast I can understand how the Mayors feel. Afterall, for nearly ten years through the 1991 Resource Management Act, New Zealander's have been told that ‘sustainable management’ was the important measurement. Councils make their decisions about resource consent applications on that basis.

But in 1992 New Zealand signed up to Agenda 21 in the international Declaration on Environment and Development and, in 1993, we ratified the Convention on Biological Diversity. Therein lies the dilemma - I can't see a definition of ‘biodiversity’ in the RMA so is it any wonder people don't understand.

On the one hand, the 1986 West Coast Accord allows logging of the beech forests which, if timber growth is the only measurement, is certainly sustainable. On the other hand, it is now well recognised that total biodiversity of the ecosystems we all rely on are vastly more important.

In other words, there have been significant developments since1986 in the international understanding of exactly how the total and inter-related ecosystems work.

Biodiversity is one index by which we can measure our environmental performance and judge how ‘sustainable’ our land management practices are. If every indicator is saying biodiversity is in decline, we can debate back and forth for as long as we like about sustainable management systems - the proof is in the real performance.

Sustainability, therefore, is a word which can hide a whole range of problems - the steady decline of our indigenous biodiversity is one of these. In nature, every action has an opposite and equal reaction and like it or not, nature will, and is, reacting.

If we can't hear the cry of the kiwi from the scrub at night - once a call heard all over the North Island - it has not gone for a season. It has most likely moved on forever. It is not something over which we have no control. It is not about neglect, but the absence of both central and local government policies and systems which take into account the particular needs of native species as well as other needs.

I'm not a ‘greenie’ - far from it - but even I can see the commonsense and logic in trying to protect something which is an integral part of a system which we all need. It's not just words - ultimately it's survival. It's that simple.

For the West Coast, there are still a number of questions to be answered by government. For example, Timberlands, as part of the beech logging, was to undertake pest management control and now that it looks likely to go, who will pick up that responsibility, because we just can't let the forests be overtaken by even more pests? We are talking about serious money for pest control.

What is needed, not just for the West Coast but throughout New Zealand, is a quantum change in both mind-set and action. We simply cannot afford to continue with our pioneering and development mind-set. If you don't believe that, ask the people in many parts of Australia, and elsewhere, where their water is now so saline that it is becoming undrinkable. That will have enormous implications for their society. Do we really want to go down that track? It's time for some serious discussions about our future.

ends


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