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Forest Protection Funds Gutted for Stewart Island

29 October, 1999

MEDIA RELEASE FOR IMMEDIATE USE

Forest Protection Funds Gutted for Stewart Island Deal

Contact: Kevin Smith (04) 385-7374 work or (04) 934-2473 home _______________________________________________________________________

Critical opportunities for nature protection on private land could be lost over the next three years because of the Government's recent expensive forest protection deal for Stewart Island Maori land, according to conservationists.

The Forest and Bird Protection Society's Conservation Director, Kevin Smith, said that the protection of the 3,300 hectare Lords River block on Stewart Island had been funded, in large part, by the Minister of Conservation reducing funding for the Nature Heritage Fund and the Nga Whenua Rahui Fund over the next three years.

"My understanding is that both these funds have been slashed by about 50%. The $10.9 million Stewart Island deal has been bankrolled mainly by the Minister of Conservation taking $6.8 million from the two funds' next three years' allocation.

"Both the Nature Heritage Fund and Nga Whenua Rahui were already heavily over-subscribed. This funding cut has gutted them, meaning that many important protection opportunities for rare habitats and threatened species on private land will now fall by the wayside. Many private landowners will be disappointed. Tensions over Resource Management Act restrictions on natural areas will increase now that funding for voluntary conservation initiatives has been slashed."

Forest and Bird welcomed the protection of the Stewart Island Maori land but believed it should not be at the expense of higher nature conservation priorities elsewhere around the country.

Mr Smith said he was disappointed that the Minister of Conservation had used the protection funds without seeking the agreement of the funds' two advisory boards.

"These boards have performed an outstanding service to conservation over the last ten years by ensuring the funds are wisely spent to achieve the greatest conservation benefit. The Minister should be seeking their advice on conservation priorities and acting on it, rather than ignoring them as he has done here."

Forest and Bird is calling on all political parties to restore and increase funding for the Nature Heritage Fund and Nga Whenua Rahui.

"Critically depleted habitats such as coastal dunes, wetlands, natural grasslands and lowland forests containing threatened species are at great risk. Unless landowners can receive assistance in the protection of the most valuable areas, many will be lost. This is a pity and a sad outcome of the otherwise laudable protection of the Stewart Island forests," said Mr Smith.

....... ends


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