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Minister’s OK to mine Denniston Plateau disaster for nature

Minister’s OK to mine Denniston Plateau disaster for nature

Forest & Bird is devastated that Conservation Minister Nick Smith has today opened the door for an Australian company to mine ecologically significant conservation land on Denniston Plateau.

Forest & Bird Top of the South Field Officer Debs Martin is stunned by the decision because Denniston Plateau is on conservation land, which means it can only be used for conservation.

“What makes the Minister’s decision all the more baffling is the conservation values of the plateau and where the mine would go are absolutely extraordinary.

“The plateau is home to an array of specialised wildlife, including critically endangered plants, rare lizard species and the great spotted kiwi. And this mine tears right at the heart of the most important area of the plateau.” Debs Martin says.

Dr Smith has granted the mining company access arrangements, which gives permission for the open-cast coal mine to go ahead. However, the mining company still needs resource consent, which due to a Forest & Bird appeal is currently before the Environment Court.

Forest & Bird believes the decision is about politics, not conservation. The law prevents the Conservation Minister from taking economic considerations into account when considering access arrangements. “Everyone – the Environment Court, DOC, external ecologists – agrees that whole ecosystems will be lost if the mine goes ahead. The Minister of Conservation is effectively signing the death warrants of native animals,” Debs Martin says.

“The Environment Court stressed that the case for the mine was ‘finely balanced’ under the RMA. If you take the economic benefits out of the equation, then the logical conclusion is that the Minister can only say no when he has to make an access decision under the Conservation Act.”

The company’s offer to inject $22 million into the Heaphy area in return for destroying the plateau is poor compensation. “DOC has undertaken predator control in the Heaphy area for the last 19 years, and had signalled its intent for further predator control, with or without funding from the mining company. And the Heaphy isn’t even in the same area. Predator control there will do nothing to preserve the internationally unique biodiversity that will be destroyed on the plateau.”

Forest & Bird also questions the timing of the announcement. The Environment Court is yet to give a final ruling on the mine and two further cases are before the courts that could affect its final decision. “The Minister is getting ahead of himself. There may not be a need for a decision as the Environment Court may still stop the mine from going ahead,” Debs Martin says.

“But by making a decision before law changes come into effect tomorrow, he’s avoiding having to open the issue to public consultation, something the government promised at the end of the Schedule 4 mining debate in 2010.

“It’s exactly why Forest & Bird is concerned about the cuts to DOC and its new reliance on corporate funding. Predator control in exchange for mining is the type of deal we will see in the future where money thrown in one direction will allow companies to bulldoze another, and communities are completely shut out of discussions,” Debs Martin says.


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