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Permits approved to move Mt Augustus snails

Hon Chris Carter
Minister of Conservation

12 April 2006 Media Statement

Ministers approve permits to move Mt Augustus snails

Conservation Minister Chris Carter and Associate Minister of Energy Harry Duynhoven have approved permits under the Wildlife Act to enable a population of Powelliphanta Augustus snails to be moved from the Mt Augustus ridgeline on the West Coast.

But Solid Energy New Zealand must implement an intensive mitigation package to preserve the snails before it can commence mining in the area.

"This decision has been an exceptionally difficult one to make because the issues involved are finely balanced," Mr Carter said today.

"At the heart of this decision are two questions. Should a population of very rare and apparently very localised snails be moved out of most of their known habitat? And if not, is the risk of moving the snails sufficiently high to halt Solid Energy's mining plans on the Mount Augustus ridgeline?

"A great deal of advice has been considered on these matters. It is fair to say the scientific information on Powelliphanta Augustus is heavily contested. There are a large number of unknowns, risks and scientific arguments around key aspects of the species, and what will happen if they are moved.

"The Department of Conservation's advice is that given all the unknowns if a decision were made purely in the interest of the snails, they would be left alone and mining of the ridgeline would not take place. We respect this advice.

"However, as ministers we have a legal responsibility to consider more than just the welfare of the snails," Mr Carter said.

"We are also required to have regard to the Coal Mines Act, and this piece of legislation demands that we consider the economic benefits that flow from the efficient development and use of New Zealand's coal resources.

"The snail habitat is on land owned by Solid Energy that has been specifically set aside for mining. The land contains a coal resource of considerable value to the West Coast region and the nation.

"In making our decision, we have had to weigh the economic benefits of accessing this coal resource with the potential risk of detriment to the snails. In doing so we have taken account of the extent to which stringent conditions may assist in the protection of Powelliphanta Augustus.

"On balance, we have decided to allow the snails to be moved. But we are requiring a larger mitigation package than originally offered by Solid Energy."

Solid Energy will pay for:

- The relocation by hand of up to 250 snails from the proposed mining site;

- The establishment of an expanded new habitat for the snails that is as close as can reasonably be achieved to the old habitat, and will not be affected by mining;

- The protection of this area with intensive predator control and a predator proof fence;

- The direct transfer of the existing snail habitat to another area that will not be affected by mining;

- The protection of an expanded proportion of the existing snail habitat that will not be mined, and intensive predator control across this area;

- The development of a captive management programme for the snails; and

- The conducting of a wider survey of the surrounding environment to locate other possible areas of habitat for Powelliphanta Augustus.

"This comprehensive package will provide at least three opportunities to protect the snails, and the implementation of it will be carefully monitored and enforced," Mr Carter said.

"None of these measures are perfect on their own but taken together they provide us with sufficient confidence that the snails will be preserved. This is particularly so given much of the existing habitat for Powelliphanta Augustus has already been destroyed, and surrounding mining activity has degraded what is left.

"We are confident this is the best decision under the law, and fairly balances the competing interests at stake."


Editor's Notes

Solid Energy New Zealand (SENZ) operates a coal mine at the Stockton Plateau on the West Coast of the South Island, and is the owner of the land.

The indigenous land snail known as Powelliphanta "Augustus" occurs on the fringes of the Mt Augustus coal deposit. P. "Augustus" is listed as nationally critical on the Department of Conservation's threat classification system.

Initial scientific analysis suggests that Powelliphanta may be at least a new subspecies of snail if not a new species, but further scientific analysis is required before this can be confirmed.

P. "Augustus" is absolutely protected under the Wildlife Act 1953. In recognition of this, SENZ applied for a permit under the Wildlife Act for a permit to translocate a number of P. "Augustus", but it was believed at that time that if SENZ did not get the permits it could proceed with mining anyway.

In December 2005, the Royal Forest and Bird Society Inc. obtained a declaratory judgement from the High Court which confirmed that SENZ required permits for the direct transfer of snail habitat and for any additional effects on Powelliphanta arising from mining.

In February, SENZ found two P. "Augustus" snails on a mining block in the Stockton Plateau that had already been modified.

On 22nd February 2006, SENZ applied to amend its application to incorporate any P. "Augustus" discovered on any of the mining blocks on the Stockton Plateau. The Ministers of Conservation and Energy approved a permit on 27th February, for SENZ to move any P. "Augustus", but for four of the mining blocks only. This meant that the snails found in those four blocks that had already been mined could be translocated.

SENZ has appealed the decision of the High Court to the Court of Appeal but the appeal does not affect the Ministers' authority to make this decision.

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