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Trampers call for "Forgotten Lands" to be protected

Trampers call for "Forgotten Lands" to be protected

Federated Mountain Clubs (FMC) today launched an election-year campaign to protect much-loved areas managed by the Department of Conservation at risk from intrusive and disastrous exploitation.

“We want every political party to go into this election promising better protection for our conservation stewardship lands. They are our Forgotten Lands and make up most of the land managed by DOC outside of our national parks and reserves. They include magnificent mountains, forests and coastal areas that we should expect to be safe, such as The Remarkables near Queenstown and the Coromandel Peninsula forests”, said FMC President, Robin McNeill.

Stewardship lands make up 30% of all the land managed by DOC and they have been overlooked by politicians since DOC was formed in 1987.

“In the last few years, Meridian Energy came close to drowning the Mokihinui Valley;Bob Robertson wanted to bulldoze his way through the Snowdon Forest for a monorail and Solid Energy started to mine the Denniston Plateau”, said Mr McNeill. “Because they are not in national parks or reserves, businesses wrongly think they aren’t valuable. Some of these lands should be in national parks”.

Last year the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment reported that only a fraction of stewardship land had been properly classified and managed as required by the Conservation Act.

“It’s partly a question of funding”, said Mr McNeill. “Electoral candidates need a strong message that the public cares about Conservation. Voters have to tell politicians, ‘Yes, do spend more money on Conservation. Make Conservation a really high priority’.”

“Politicians need to listen”, said Mr McNeill, noting that as well as FMC’s 17,000 members, over 300,000 New Zealanders enjoy tramping.

Securing our Forgotten Lands


FMC is proposing the formal incorporation of eight outstanding Forgotten Lands into conservation parks, forest parks and national parks:.


Coromandel Peninsula: The Coromandel is a national treasure on Auckland’s doorstep. Thousands of visitors enjoy its warm climate, white sandy beaches and lush flora and fauna. The Government must give priority to protecting areas of stewardship land on the peninsula.


Whareorino: Whareorino Conservation Area is one of the King Country’s most scenic forested areas. Backcountry tramping, hunting and fly fishing are popular in the upper reaches of the Awakino River. The Mangaohae Valley in Tawarau Forest provides accessible hiking in native forest with stunning limestone cliffs. This land must receive higher protection.


Rangataua Forest, South Ruapehu: Rangataua Conservation Area is a 6710 ha block on the southern flank of Mt Ruapehu, just below the round-the-mountain track. It adjoins Tongariro National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site.


Waiototara Forest, Whanganui–Taranaki: The PCE has called for better protection of the Waitotara Forest. The scenic and recreational values of this area deserve formal protection through amalgamation with adjacent Whanganui National Park. Day and overnight trampers, hunters and bird-watchers visiting the Rotokohu Wetlands need improved access to the southern Waiototara Forest.

Mokihinui Valley: One of the most beautiful forest-clad catchments on the West Coast. The PCE opposed commercial use of the river and stewardship land for a hydroelectric dam. This wild and scenic river deserves more and better protection.


St James Conservation Area: Nestled between the Lewis Pass National Reserve, Nelson Lakes National Park, Hanmer Forest Park and Molesworth Farm Park, the ecosystem of St James Station is a transition between West Coast rainforest and the dry grassland east of the main divide. The area is popular for tramping, climbing, white-water kayaking and rafting, fishing, horse riding, mountain-biking, four-wheel driving and off-road motorcycling.


The Remarkables: The Department of Conservation administers a large tract of stewardship land on the Remarkables and Hector Mountains with high visual, recreational and ecological values. Trampers, rock and ice climbers, alpine and cross country skiers and car tourists all enjoy this rugged range, which deserves formal protection.


Te Wahipounamu: Further protection of the South West New Zealand World Heritage Area, including the Hooker–Landsborough, Livingstone Range, Snowdon Forest and Mavora Lakes:Although the United Nations recognises the uniqueness of Te Wahipounamu for its magnificent mountain and river systems, much of it is classified as stewardship land. Areas including the Hooker–Landsborough region, the Livingstone Range, the Mavora Lakes and the Snowdon Forest deserve further protection.


Background Information


The Forgotten Lands are areas of publicly owned land managed by the Department of Conservation and classified as stewardship areas . The Conservation Act 1987 requires, in regard to stewardship areas, that their natural and historic resources are protected. The Act also provides the Minister of Conservation with the authority to reclassify a stewardship area as a reserve, refuge, sanctuary or national park.

Most stewardship areas came under the management of the Department of Conservation (DOC) when it was established in 1987. The intention was that stewardship areas were to be assessed and areas of high conservation or recreational value given a higher level of legal protection. As the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment (PCE), Dr Jan Wright identified in her 2013 report on the status of Stewardship Land:

“The original intent of the Government in 1987 was to assess the conservation value of different areas of stewardship land. Each area would then be reclassified into the
appropriate category of conservation land (such as a reserve or ecological area), or,
if it had little or no conservation value, be taken out of the conservation estate.”

The clear intention in defining stewardship areas was to protect them from development or extractive use until their conservation value could be established. However, a systematic evaluation process has never been undertaken and the integrity of stewardship areas have been challenged by business and political interests seeking major economic development. They have argued that stewardship land is low value conservation land and therefore should be open to commercial exploitation. Projects proposed to be undertaken on stewardship areas have included mining, hydroelectric and tourism developments.

Dr Wright has identified that insufficient legislative guidance is given to how stewardship areas should be managed in the regard to these developments. She particularly points out the difficulty the "land swap" provisions of the Conservation Act have caused in relation to major development projects as opposed to the small boundary changes the provision was originally drafted to facilitate:

"There are two ways in which stewardship land differs from other land in the conservation estate. First, large areas can be swapped for areas of private land. Second, it need only be managed so that its “natural and historic resources are protected;, whereas other categories of conservation land have more specific management criteria.

There are problems associated with both these differences. The direction and guidance for land swaps is based on law and policy which is inadequate for anything other than minor boundary changes. And the purpose for the inclusion of any area of stewardship land within the conservation estate is left vague and undefined, signalling that it is of low conservation value.

Taken together, these differences lead to the legal protection of stewardship land being weaker than that of other types of conservation land. This would not matter if the conservation value of all land in this category was low, but that is not the case. For instance, some areas of stewardship land were purchased and added to the conservation estate, because of their high conservation value. Others have recently been identified by departmental scientists as being of high biodiversity value."

Dr Wright found that there are large areas of land within the conservation estate that have significant conservation values, but low legal protection. Because of this incongruity, she predicts more public controversy and legal debate, such as the prolonged hearings over the damming of the Mokihinui River, unless there is government corrective action. Dr Wright called for DOC to prepare a national strategy for the reclassification of stewardship land with significant conservation value, setting out revised reclassification priorities, and a plan and timetable for implementation.

On an optimistic note, the Dr Wright noted that in recent years, DOC is taking a more systematic approach to identifying conservation priorities and looking more broadly across the conservation estate to manage biodiversity where it exists rather than according to the status of the park in which it is contained. However, the conservation and recreation values of the stewardship areas still require that a systematic approach to their reclassification and management becomes a priority. DOC’s mandate to develop sound management processes for stewardship areas has stalled. Corrective action is needed.

ends

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