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Ministers' decision fails snails

Wednesday, 12 April 2006

Ministers' decision fails snails

Today's decision by the Conservation and Associate Energy Ministers to permit Solid Energy to transfer 250 Powelliphanta "Augustus" snails and then mine their main natural habitat on Mt Augustus risks the continued survival of the species, says Forest & Bird.

"It is disappointing that the Ministers' decision allows Solid Energy to mine the main snail habitat before we know whether the transfer will be successful," says Forest & Bird Advocacy Manager Kevin Hackwell. "Solid Energy will not be giving up any of the prime P. "Augustus" snail habitat they applied to mine".

Even Solid Energy acknowledges the uncertainty of success in protecting the species - their application states: "There is a high risk associated with the translocation proposal as the outcome of the translocation is not guaranteed."

"The Ministers failed to follow the Department of Conservation's (DOC) expert advice, along with that of other experts, including the Royal Society, that the snails should have been left alone and no mining allowed."

"Better compromises were available. Relatively small concessions by Solid Energy would have made a big difference to the survival chances of these carnivorous giant land snails. For example, some of the core habitat could have been set aside for the snails. Alternatively more time could have been given to assess the success of the transfer to the new site before allowing the destruction of the main snail habitat."

"Their decision also sets a precedent because it is the first time that a Government has knowingly risked the avoidable extinction of a unique NZ species," Mr Hackwell said.

"The modest increase in the number of snails to be transferred from 80-100 to 250, and the predator controls and predator-proof fencing to be implemented at the transfer site, are better than nothing."

"No snails have been found at the transfer site," said Mr Hackwell. "This does not bode well for the long-term future of P. Augustus, especially when DOC advice on the suitability of the transfer site states: "... alone it is too small to maintain the species in the long-term."

"Forest & Bird will now consider how the Ministers arrived at their decision before deciding whether to seek a Judicial Review," he said.

Notes to Editors

1. Powelliphanta "Augustus" is not the snail species found at Happy Valley within the proposed Cypress opencast coal mine. P. "Augustus" is found only on the ridgeline of Mt Augustus, some 4 km to the east of the proposed Cypress mine.

2. DNA studies by Massey University have confirmed that P. "Augustus" is a separate species which diverged from its closest relative more than 1.5 million years ago.

3. In August 2005 Solid Energy applied for a permit from the Department of Conservation under the Wildlife Act 1953 to hand move the snails to another site within the Stockton coal mining area. The application was described as an "emergency." The application stated that "This is an emergency translocation as the habitat of the snail is to be mined out. The company intends to start mining October 2005, whether or not the application for a translocation permit is granted.

4. Forest and Bird filed proceedings in the High Court in November 2005 seeking a declaration from the High Court that Solid Energy would also need consent from the Minister of Conservation and the Ministers of Energy to move the snails by transferring their habitat and to kill snails not moved by hand or digger. The High Court granted the declarations sought in December 2005 (and awarded costs against Solid Energy).

5. Solid Energy applied in December 2005 to the Minister of Conservation and the Minister of Energy to move the snails' habitat. Following the High Court's decision it further applied to do "all acts of mining including those that may have an ancillary effect on absolutely protected wildlife."

6. The Department of Conservation has received technical advice that "the chances that a translocation of Powelliphanta "Augustus" as proposed by Solid Energy succeeds are minimal."


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