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Hobbs Speech: Launch of Environment report

Marian Hobbs Speech: Launch of Taranaki Regional Council's, State of Environment report, New Plymouth

It is my pleasure to be here today to launch Taranaki Regional Council’s state of the environment report Taranaki – our place our future.

Your regional council has been very proactive when it comes to environmental reporting. Last year the Taranaki Regional Council was the first to sign up for a national environmental information sharing protocol with the Ministry for the Environment. The protocol is about working together to improve the way environmental information is collected and used.

Taranaki – our place our future is the region’s second state of the environment report. It draws on the detailed environmental monitoring programmes the Council has undertaken since the 1990s. Long-term monitoring is vital as it allows us to track trends over time. So what does it tell us about Taranaki?

Overall the majority of the environmental indicators report that the quality of the environment remains high. For example, water quality in the region’s rivers and steams continues to be good to excellent. This is due in part to the partnerships between the Council and landholders that have led to the development of over 380 riparian vegetation management plans. Taranaki has set an example for the rest of the country with its riparian vegetation programme – something you can be very proud of!

Protecting and replanting riverbank vegetation benefits water quality. It also enhances local biodiversity and will absorb carbon dioxide, acting as a ‘carbon sink’. So protecting and replanting riparian vegetation is a triple whammy.

The news is good, but we cannot afford to be complacent. The report flags the increasing pressure on freshwater from future intensification of dairying as an issue of continuing importance for the Taranaki community. The management of water quality is a significant national issue and is being addressed through the Government’s Sustainable Development for New Zealand Plan of Action. I was therefore very pleased to sign the Clean Stream Dairying Accord yesterday with the Minister for Agriculture, and representatives from Fonterra and Local Government New Zealand.

Management of soil resources is another issue of major importance in a farming region like Taranaki. How can we grow things without good soils? Again Taranaki is setting an example. The potential for soil erosion is particularly high in inland hill country. Council’s ongoing monitoring indicates an increase in the level of sustainable landuse in hill country. 85% of hill country is now considered to be sustainable and not likely to suffer from soil erosion. Soil erosion is addressed through Council’s Regional Soil Plan for Taranaki but further improvements in land management will depend largely on farmers and the financial implications of any changes. The Council and landholders have worked together to develop soil conservation plans that cover over 93 000 hectares of privately owned land in the hill country. This is more than double the land area covered by such plans in 1995. But it is still only 28% of the region’s hill country. I would like to encourage the expansion of this work. There are benefits for the region and the country as the flow-on effects from any changes in agricultural productivity are important for New Zealand as a whole.

There is more good news concerning the state of wetlands in Taranaki. All over the world wetlands have been lost or modified. Why are wetlands important? They were once considered nasty, mosquito-ridden swamps. We now know they are important for a number of reasons:

They are important places for indigenous plants and animals to live They play a role in preventing eroded soil from entering waterways They have important cultural and amenity value They control pollution by filtering out unwanted nutrients.

Taranaki has over 700 wetland areas. In the last few years 12 of the 19 unprotected but regionally significant wetlands have received additional protection and enhancement. Now 76 of the cream of Taranaki’s wetlands have been given priority for protection. Other wetlands are being protected and enhanced through programmes such as the Taranaki Tree Trust. I hope the success to date continues.

All New Zealanders have a role to play when it comes to improving the state of our environment. That is why partnerships such as those between the Council and landholders, the Government and Fonterra, and the Council and the Ministry for the Environment are so important. The Council’s slogan ‘Working with people, caring for our environment’ is an excellent basis on which to undertake proactive environmental management involving the whole community.

That’s where state of the environment reports such as Taranaki – our place our future are so important. State of the environment reporting is used worldwide to collect accurate, timely and accessible information on the condition and prospects of our environment and aims to answer the following questions: what is happening to the environment? why is it happening? how are our attempts to improve it working? I am very interested in how Taranaki Regional Council is beginning to address sustainable development and how it is presented in this report. In particular the economic analysis indicates that total spending on the environment by the Taranaki community is conservatively estimated at $57 million per annum. This is an indication of the extent to which you all value your local environment and the efforts that are being made to maintain it. Harnessing commitment from all sections of the community – agricultural, commercial, industrial, government and the general community – is vital if your current success is to continue and expand.

One of the challenges in state of the environment reporting is making complex, technical information accessible to all. This report is over 200 pages long. But it is accompanied by a summary report and CD, and is on the Council’s website which will make it available to the local community here in Taranaki and the wider global community out there on the world wide web.

I would like to finish by congratulating the Taranaki Regional Council and the Taranaki community for having the environmental monitoring programmes in place to produce the information on which this report is based.

I know you will use it wisely. I urge you not to take Taranaki’s clean, green image for granted. I look forward to future visits to the region to see the outcomes from your ongoing work. Well done Taranaki!

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