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A balanced solution for SILNA forests

Sunday 12 May 2002 Media Statement

Budget 2002

A balanced solution for SILNA forests

The government will seek to protect key blocks of Maori-owned native forest in the South Island for conservation, under a Budget 2002 policy announced today by Forestry Minister Pete Hodgson.

The policy concerns native forests, mostly in Southland, allocated to Maori under the South Island Landless Natives Act 1906. They are currently exempt from Forests Act requirements for sustainable forest management and a ban on exports of native timber logs and woodchips.

The government is providing $19.7 million over seven years to fund the new policy. Of this, $16.1 million will be available to the Nature Heritage Fund for negotiated conservation settlements on SILNA forest blocks that are considered priorities for protection from logging.

For SILNA owners wishing to log their forests, assistance will be available to develop sustainable forest management plans. The Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry will meet reasonable costs for owners to secure the necessary expert advice.

Funding to the Ministry for the Environment will enable the provision of better support and advice for councils on the application of the Resource Management Act to forests on SILNA land.

The voluntary moratorium on logging begun in 1999, which provides a payment in exchange for forest protection, will be extended for three years to March 2005. This will allow time for SILNA owners to consider the options for the future of their forests.

Legislation will remove the exemption of SILNA forests from indigenous timber export controls. The exemption from the Forests Act sustainability requirements will remain, for the domestic market, except for those choosing to comply with the Act.

“This policy balances the need to protect some prime areas of native forest with a recognition of the history of the SILNA issue,” Mr Hodgson said. “The government looks forward to productive negotiations with SILNA owners now that a framework for the future has been established.”

Attached: questions and answers on SILNA policy

Questions and Answers: SILNA forests

What are SILNA forests?

The South Island Landless Natives Act 1906 provided for the allocation of about 57,000 hectares of land, throughout the South Island, to more than 4000 named Maori who were identified as having insufficient land to support themselves. Of the area now remaining, about 17,300ha is forested land that is affected by this policy. About 8300ha of this forest remain unlogged and about 9000ha have been modified to varying degrees by logging.

Where are the SILNA forests affected by this policy?

Most affected SILNA forests are in the lower South Island. The major unlogged tracts are in Southland and Otago, within the Rowallan Alton and West Rowallan blocks (western Southland) and the Tautuku-Waikawa blocks (Catlins). There are lesser unlogged areas in the the Hokonui-Waimumu blocks, near Gore, and small remnants in Southland’s Waitutu forest, in South Westland, in the Heaphy River near Karamea, and in the outer Marlborough Sounds. The Heaphy block and two blocks - Toi Toi and Port Adventure - on Stewart Island are not covered by this policy as they are subject to processes set out in the Ngai Tahu Claims Settlement Act 1998. Areas of SILNA forest at Waitutu and Lords River have been dealt with under separate conservation agreements and legislation.

Who are SILNA owners?

SILNA owners are the descendants of those granted land as a result of the 1906 legislation. They engage in the management of their land through trusts and incorporations, although some SILNA land is managed on owners’ behalf by the Maori Trustee. There may be up to 40,000 beneficial owners of SILNA land.

Why is new policy needed?

SILNA forests were exempted from a 1993 amendment to the Forests Act that introduced provisions requiring sustainable management of all privately owned indigenous production forest. The exemption was created because the government was still addressing issues relating to SILNA lands. SILNA forests remain the only privately owned indigenous forests in New Zealand in which unsustainable logging can be conducted, which has been of concern to the public and successive governments.

What are the SILNA moratoriums?

The previous government introduced negotiated moratoriums in 1999 as a provisional measure to protect SILNA forests until a long-term solution could be found. A Crown negotiator was appointed to negotiate agreements with SILNA owners to refrain from logging for a set period, usually one year, in exchange for a set payment per hectare of forest. About 40 percent of SILNA forest has been covered by moratorium agreements. The current government has rolled over these moratorium agreements while it has been developing its policy on SILNA.

Why are the moratoriums being extended for three years?

The government will seek to extend the moratorium agreements for a further three years to protect SILNA forests while conservation settlements are negotiated, or while sustainable forest management plans are developed for SILNA owners wishing to use their forests for sustainable timber production.

What are the priority areas for conservation settlements?

The 5000ha of SILNA forest identified as having priority for conservation settlements is primarily in the Tautuku-Waikawa, West Rowallan and Waitutu areas. Other areas will be considered for conservation settlements in a second phase, subject to funding availability. It is expected that protection will be by way of covenants in perpetuity.

Why will SILNA owners be assisted with the costs of sustainable forest management plans?

Technical expertise is required to develop a sustainable forest management plan and many SILNA ownership groups lack funds for such purposes. The government recognises that it is preferable for any logging to occur on a sustainable basis, so that the forests and their natural values are maintained as much as possible. That is more likely to be achieved if SILNA owners are assisted with the reasonable costs of sustainable management plans. A condition for such assistance will be that any forest for which a plan is prepared be brought under the Forests Act sustainability provisions prior to active management. The Forests Amendment Bill, now before a Parliamentary select committee, will enable this to occur.

What is the role of the Resource Management Act and the councils that administer it?

Compliance with the Resource Management Act is required for all native forest logging, whether sustainable or not. To improve the application and enforcement of the RMA, the government will:

- work with the Southland and Clutha district councils in the enforcement of their district plans;

- help councils with information about ecological sustainability, areas of significance and the likely environmental effects of logging;

- provide information relevant to the consideration of individual resource consent applications; and

- work with the councils where appropriate to improve their plans to provide a sound basis for timely evaluation of consent applications.

Why are export controls being reintroduced for SILNA forests?

Successive governments have imposed export controls on native timber. Exports of native timber logs, woodchips and sawn timber (except sustainably produced sawn rimu and beech) are currently prohibited under the Forests Act for everyone except SILNA forest owners. The Forests Amendment Bill will extend export controls to SILNA owners on the same basis as all other exporters and preclude compensation for this change. The government is currently considering what the exact nature of the export controls will be. The Bill provides a mechanism for assistance with financial losses if export contracts signed before the Bill’s introduction on 13 July 1999 are frustrated by its eventual enactment. Few if any such claims are expected.

Why are SILNA forests not being subjected to the same legal requirements for sustainable forest management as other private owners of native forest?

The government accepts that SILNA owners have a very firm view of their ownership rights. This view has been reinforced by the approach that central government has taken to the SILNA issue over a number of years. It is clear that SILNA owners will not accept any legislative measures that make no distinction between SILNA forests and other privately owned forests. The government has taken this view into account in designing the policy package.

What is the relevance of the WAI 158 Treaty claim?

The WAI 158 Claim, lodged with the Waitangi Tribunal in 1990 on behalf of SILNA owners, asserted that the Crown’s indigenous forest policy breaches the Treaty of Waitangi. At the time the claim was lodged, it appeared that the government would legislate to ban indigenous log and chip exports and prevent SILNA owners clearfelling their indigenous forests. SILNA forests were exempted from the export ban and sustainability requirements introduced from 1993, and the claim has not advanced.


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