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Launch of horizons

Launch of horizons.mw Manawatu-Wanganui region's State of the Environment Report

Hon Simon Upton
Palmerston North
22 June 1999
Embargoed until delivery - 3.15pm

The State of New Zealand's Environment, which we launched in 1997, warned that our environmental information needed considerable upgrading if the state of the nation's environment is to be accurately described and trends - for better or for worse - properly detected. There's plenty of anecdotal or fragmentary data but there is rarely enough to say anything authoritative about whether we've stopped the rot, we're making progress or still trading on a reputation that can't be justified.

Two years ago the challenge was laid down. It's pleasing to see horizons.mw and other Regional Councils picking it up.

Gathering information can be costly but, provided the program is managed efficiently, it is money well spent. We need to know whether our environmental policies are working. We need to know where the gaps are and we need a rational and scientific basis on which to prioritize.

For the first time all the information available on the state of the region's environment, and pressures on it, is available in one place. The Manawatu-Wanganui SER provides a fascinating snapshot of the region today and some guidance as to the issues to consider in the future.

It makes sober reading in parts.
On land:
n sixty five percent of the hill country (which dominates the region) is unstable
n fourteen percent of hill country has fresh or healing scars
n while horizons.mw's Environment Grant Fund helps to protect about 1200 ha/yr of soil from erosion, at the current rate of afforestation it will take around 100 years to protect all of the region's unstable hill country land
n sixty four percent of the region's arable land is highly susceptible to severe compaction under poor management.

On biodiversity:
n bird surveys indicate a significant decline in bird numbers, particularly native bird species. Their absence signal ecosystems in crisis
n horizons.mw consider biosecurity the biggest challenge to biodiversity. The most damaging pests in the region include possums and old man's beard
n the total area of old man's beard was estimated at over 8,000 ha in 1996. Despite the control actions, they estimate the area of infestation is increasing

On water:
n elevated levels of microbial contamination are of concern in many rivers
n groundwater levels are generally stable, but there is increasing pressure on groundwater resources east of Palmerston North and Fielding
n high nitrate levels in most Horowhenua and some Tararua groundwater pose a health risk for the rural population

There are some bright spots, however. The region generally has good air quality: it sometimes comes in handy to have a good breeze.

Environmental monitoring often stutters along because it is difficult, and, frankly, because it's not a glamorous vote winner. But it is core Regional Council business, and from the national point of view, it is most welcome. The success of environmental monitoring at the national level - the ability to place a finger on the national pulse - depends on the willingness of regional councils to link into national practice. National environmental performance indicators only make sense if they are agreed measures to track changes in the environment throughout the country.

New Zealand's national system for reporting on the state of the environment, the Environmental Performance Indicators Programme, is being developed by the Ministry for the Environment in collaboration with other agencies like horizons.mw. The Ministry intends to have a tool-box of core environmental performance indicators available for use by the year 2000. For the system to work well, it is vital that we are all singing from the same song-sheet.

With its State of the Environment Report horizons.mw has generated an admirable publication. It's not comprehensive, but it's an important first step. The work that has been done to generate real data on the size and nature of the soil loss problem is a genuine step forward in our understanding.

Of course, State of the Environment Reports are not an end in themselves. It is important to use the information to make good environmental decisions. The more we reveal the true state of the environment, the less excuse we have for leaving serious problems unaddressed. Can I urge the councillors and those interested in the quality of the region's environment to use this report to gain the support of the community for taking the next steps.

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