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Timberlands West Coast Review Inadequate

Submission on the Future of TWCL Indigenous Forest Lands

18th August 2000

On 24th July 2000, the Minister of Conservation announced that an independent panel will review the future of Timberlands West Coast Ltd (TWCL) areas of native forest during August and September 2000. The announcement identified the composition of the Panel, the timeframe for reporting, and the criteria against which the assessment will take place.

In essence, the job of the Review Panel is to make judgement and recommendations about which parcels or areas of TWCL indigenous forest land will remain open to productive management (and classed as Unallocated Crown Land) and those which will be closed to productive management (and transferred to DoC for preservation and protection).

This paper considers this announcement and asserts that:

1. The process outlined by the Minister for determining the management status of these public lands is entirely inadequate in relation to the public’s interest in these lands.

COMMENT

Irrespective of the Government’s justification, whether legal or ethical, to change the TWCL Statement of Corporate Intent and so halt Timberlands beech management proposals, the Minister of Conservation has no proper justification for not providing the public with an opportunity to state their views in relation to the change of management status of the Timberlands indigenous forest lands. These are public lands and it is unacceptable that the Minister plans to transfer these lands either out of production or into private hands without following due process.

The Minister has not stated how the results and recommendations of the Review Panel are to be used or outlined any public process for implementing decisions on the status of the lands.


2. The Conservation Act 1987 does not provide an accurate or acceptable definition of “conservation” because it limits conservation to just “preservation and protection” and is thus inappropriate and confusing as a reference.

COMMENT

There is a common and serious misunderstanding about what constitutes “conservation” in New Zealand and this anomaly is enshrined in the Conservation Act 1987. The interpretation given to “conservation” in the Conservation Act is limited to “preservation and protection” whereas the internationally accepted definition provided by the world’s largest conservation organisation, the World Conservation Union (IUCN), states:

“Thus conservation is positive, embracing preservation, maintenance, sustainable utilization, restoration, and enhancement of the natural environment.”

This difference in meaning has major and far-reaching consequences.

For example, the Terms of Reference state that “All land having conservation values or potential values should be included in the conservation land category”. Of course any land at all has conservation values but not all land has values worthy of preservation and protection. Such a statement not only pre-empts the Panel’s decision to “use or not use” the land but also confuses the meaning of the word “conservation”.

Under the IUCN, “conservation” does not preclude sustainable productive use of the natural environment and includes “preservation and protection” as subsets of “conservation”. However, most (so-called) conservation organisations in New Zealand oppose any productive or extractive use of the “natural environment” and use the word “conservation” when their interests are really just “preservation” and “protection”.

This is misleading for the general public and seriously hampers the resolution of management issues, particularly in places where ecologically-based sustainable use provides for the long-term social cohesion and economic well-being of communities and is a more logical and justifiable management option rather than simple preservation and protection.

In effect, the fundamental philosophy of conservation in New Zealand is flawed and this defect has been translated into the legislation which the Review Panel has been requested to have reference to.
Thus, the interpretation of the word “conservation” in the Conservation Act means that this Act cannot be used as an accurate or useful reference by the Review Panel in any decisions relating to the “use or non-use” of these forest lands.


3. The composition of the Review Panel can not be considered to make it “independent”.

COMMENT

The members of the Review Panel chosen by the Minister of Conservation are:

• Dr Gerry McSweeney, a West Coast ecotourism operator, with a Ph.D in plant ecology who has expert botanical and wildlife knowledge of local forests;
• Dr Les Molloy, an international natural heritage consultant, based in Lower Hutt;
• Bruce Watson, an independent conservation consultant from Hokitika;
• Bruce Hamilton, a Westport dairy farmer who has previously chaired Federated Farmers' Land Committee as well as the West Coast Conservation Board; and
• Mike Harding, an independent conservation consultant from Waitohi in South Canterbury.

It is not clear by what process or criteria the Review Panel was selected. The Minister should openly provide information on the process and criteria used as the choice of people for the review process can have a crucial influence on the nature of the decisions and recommendations made.

I do not believe that the current Panel has an appropriate balance for assessing the risks and threats of either sustainable use or preservation nor do I consider they have adequate methodologies and processes at their disposal for making decisions or recommendations on re-allocating the lands in question.
1. The Nature Heritage Fund criteria and, more specifically, the methodologies associated with those criteria are inappropriate for making judgements on changes to the management status (productive vs non-productive) of any area of land, especially land with indigenous forest cover.

COMMENT

The Nature Heritage Fund process for assessing applications to the fund involves five sequential tests for assessing natural areas, comprising:

Level One: Representativeness
The extent to which the area proposed for protection is representative of the full range of community variation that was originally present in the natural landscape, including:
 both commonplace and rare indigenous species, habitats and communities;
 the ecological processes that link them;
 the extent to which the ecosystems are already protected in the proportion they were originally present in the ecological district.

Level Two: Sustainability
The extent to which the area proposed for protection is likely to continue to be viable and evolve in a natural way in the long term, the extent to which the area is:
 protected by its size and shape;
 buffered from the effects of adjoining land uses or activities;
 linked to or dependent on other protected areas (either physically or by ecological processes) for its continued viability;
 expected to maintain its ecological integrity through major natural disturbance events;
 resilient to the depredations of introduced species;
 able to be managed to protect its ecological values; and
 expected to contribute to sustaining existing protected areas, through additional scale, buffering, linkages or restoration.

Level Three; Landscape Integrity
The extent to which the area proposed for protection contributes to and maintains the original integrity of the landscape, including the extent to which it:
 protects the original character;
 protects the original context;
 protects the range of processes that link the ecosystems present;
 maintains the natural nutrient cycles, energy flows, and hydrological regimes;
 maintains the functional coherence of the original and remaining natural landscape values;
 protects an uninterrupted ecological sequence; and
 eliminates unprotected enclaves in an otherwise protected landscape.

Level Four: Amenity
The extent to which the area proposed for protection would contribute to the physical and spiritual welfare of the local people, including its contribution to:
 protecting aesthetic coherence and pleasantness;
 conserving soil;
 maintaining water quality and yield;
 providing for recreation or tourism; and
 providing for physical, social, and spiritual renewal.

Level Five: Feasibility
The prime aim is the recognition of and legal protection for the conservation values of the indigenous ecosystems.

These then are the NHF criteria upon which the Review Panel members are to base their assessment of the Timberlands indigenous forest.

It is important to note that the NHF criteria have not been designed to make decisions about whether an area of the landscape should be used for productive purposes or not. Instead, they have been designed to make judgements on areas of indigenous (vegetation) forest competing for protection funding. In other words, the NHF criteria have been designed for situations where the decision to “preserve and protect” has already been made by a (private) landowner wishing then to capture public monies for that preservation and protection.

Decisions about whether to "use" or "not use" an area of land are of a considerably different nature and magnitude and should not be made on the basis of such a subjective set of criteria with no clear sampling or analysis methodology. Such important decisions must instead be supported by and subjected to a more rigorous process, both ecologically and, in the case of public lands, socially.

To "use" (in this case, "expect some level of production") or "not use" an area of the landscape is a vitally important decision, regionally, nationally, and sometimes globally. If the productive potential of an area is precluded by the decision "not to use", then there are implications for the rest of the landscape in that the costs of protection management are born by the productivity of the "used" landscape. This adds to the pressure in the "used" landscape and, in fact, encourages exploitation of the ecosystems in those "used" landscapes. New Zealand is currently suffering from the effects of policies based on this dichotomy of protection and exploitation.

Unfortunately, this dichotomy does not work well out on the hills because ecosystems do not strictly obey fences or lines on maps. In other words, the effects of exploitative management eventually affect the areas we have set aside for protection.

While the Minister of Conservation may be correct in identifying the conservation values embodied in the TWCL indigenous production forests, it is another matter entirely to use this as the reason to exclude the option of "productive use" of those forests, particularly without applying a more thorough and robust assessment and consultation process.

The old assumption that "use" precludes the retention of a healthy, fully-functioning forest ecosystem is now seen as irrational and is rapidly losing ground to the concepts of real conservation management which encompasses and integrates both protection and wise use and, given historic exploitation, often includes forest restoration.


So in summary, there are a number of points which reveal that the NHF criteria, on their own, do not constitute a satisfactory process for determining whether or not a given area should be excluded from productive or extractive management.

(i) There is no associated methodology defined which objectively determines the level of risk to a specific species, habitat, ecological process or abiotic feature in an area arising from any threat, let alone any threat from sustainable utilization in that area.

(ii) There are no classes of management regimes defined (other than protection) which would provide suitable management response mechanisms for the nature and intensities of risks so determined.

(iii) There is no associated methodology defined for objectively measuring the spatial distribution or arrangement of specific species, habitats, ecological processes or abiotic features in the ecological landscape relative to their extent or range.

(iv) There is no associated methodology defined for objectively measuring the spatial distribution or arrangement of specific species, habitats, ecological processes or abiotic features in the ecological landscape relative to (undefined) indicators of health and/or condition.

(v) There are no spatial distribution or risk thresholds defined at which the management regime must be required to change.

(vi) Finally, and most importantly, the logic underpinning the use of the NHF criteria is faulty. The criteria presuppose that the decision about whether or not the area in question is to be “used or not used” has already been made and actually assume that the area is to be protected. This of course pre-empts the fundamental decision of “use or non-use” and, via a convoluted and seemingly scientific process, simply ends up justifying and reinforcing the decision to protect and preserve.


And requests that:

1. A comprehensive and meaningful public consultation component be incorporated into the process.

COMMENT

The Minister would be acting democratically and in the interests of all New Zealanders by establishing a process of review which provided balanced information on the issue and included opportunities for meaningful dialogue with locals and the general public on the proposed changes. Legal precedents have been set for a process which not only provides for public input and hearings but also for a legal right of appeal.


2. The composition of the Review Panel be reviewed and the Terms of Reference reviewed with input from international landscape ecology and conservation (IUCN) authorities.

COMMENT

The matters before the Review Panel are questions relating to principles of public process (consultation, accountability, and transparency), principles of landscape ecology (using objective assessment methods), and principles of land allocation there being two types – public vs private and productive vs non-productive.

Both the terms of reference provided by the Minister and the composition of the Panel are such that it would be strengthened by the addition of an internationally recognised forest ecologist with intimate knowledge of forest ecosystem dynamics and landscape ecology at the management level. The Panel must include persons familiar with objective assessment procedures and internationally accepted risk assessment and land allocation principles and methods, particularly in relation to both forest preservation and use.

Contrary to popular belief, New Zealand does not lead the world in these matters and, in fact, is under considerable criticism in global fora for the way we conduct such processes.


3. The Minister clearly states how the Panel’s report is to be used or implemented and prior to the Panel commencing work.

COMMENT

It is a matter of democratic importance that the public are (a) informed about the process of how the decisions of the Review Panel are to be implemented by the Government, and (b) that the Minister consults and takes account of the views of locals and the general public in this implementation process. As stated above, these stakeholders have a right to know and have a say and the Minister has a duty to inform and consult.


4. The Panel be required to have regard to the Forests Act Part IIIA 1993.

COMMENT

The Forests Act Part IIIA 1993 sets out the meaning of sustainable forest management:

“… the management of an area of indigenous forest land in a way that maintains the ability of the forest growing on that land to continue to provide a full range of products and amenities in perpetuity while retaining the forest’s natural values.”

This definition provides a more appropriate statutory reference than the other Acts the Panel is required to have reference to. The reason is that the purpose of the Forests Act and its provisions are based on conservation management providing for wise use as well as protection and preservation (through the requirement to set aside representative areas). It also has an underlying theme of economic sustainability in that an area of forest would not be placed under such management unless it was economically viable. In comparison, the Conservation Act neither provides for wise use nor requires protection management to be ecologically or economically sustainable.

Thus, the Review Panel, in making judgements and recommendations on “use or non-use” must be required to have reference to the Forests Act Part IIIA as the primary statutory guide.


5. The Minister postpones the assessment of these TWC native forest lands until more scientifically robust methodologies are developed for assessing ecological landscape attributes and values and for determining suitable and acceptable management responses to those attributes and values.

COMMENT

Given these inadequacies and deficiencies outlined above, the Minister would be acting in the interests of all New Zealanders by postponing the Review Panel until a more robust assessment process has been designed and rigorously tested. This would then provide the necessary information as a basis for an informed and engaging public consultation process.


6. Effective constraints be placed over the lands to prevent any future transfer to non-resident owners.

COMMENT

Given the possibility that some of these forest lands may be offered to and taken over by Maori as part of Treaty claims settlement once the allocation process is complete, any such transfer constitutes a privatisation of public land. The public should be informed about the implications of this and the possibility for this TWCL native forest land to be sold on the open market.

Roger May
Forestry and Landscape Ecology Consultant
Nelson
Email rkmay@clear.net.nz

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