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Stewardship land seems stuck in limbo along with mining ban

Stewardship land seems stuck in limbo along with mining ban proposal

First published in Energy and Environment on July 4 2019

The Department of Conservation says it is taking a “new approach” to stewardship land on the West Coast, but it appears plans for a methodical review of all such land in the conservation estate have been quietly shelved.

Written submissions to Parliament’s Environment Committee from DoC on its budget for the coming year say: “No decisions have yet been made on what and how much stewardship land will be reviewed in 2019/20. The Department has an ongoing process to identify stewardship land that requires reclassification as part of its day to day operations. A new approach to stewardship land review using an external advisory panel approach will be piloted on the West Coast.”

This comes as the release of a discussion paper on the Government’s announced ban on new mines on the conservation estate continues to be delayed.

The ban was announced in 2017 and the discussion document was last due to be released in September 2018, but is still yet to emerge. There has been lobbying from the West Coast councils to be excluded from the outright ban and NZ First MPs have also been raising doubts about it.

The discussion document has been stymied over defining what is mining (for instance does it include gravel extraction) and whether stewardship land should be included until its status is better defined.

Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage has been replying to questions about the delays to the discussion document with a straight bat. She says there is no plan or intention to exclude the West Coast and there is “ongoing discussion” about the policy between the governing parties.

Since DoC was set up it was meant to sort out the status of stewardship land. It is approximately 30% of DOC land, totalling approximately 2.5m ha nationally or 9% of NZ’s land area.

It is not the land is unprotected, it is legally protected under the Conservation Act and is managed so its ‘natural and historic resources are protected’. However, there is general agreement some of the land deserves better classification.

In 2013 and again in 2015 the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment gave DoC a ‘hurry up’ message to sort it out.

In April 2018, DoC said it was developing a long-term work programme to review all stewardship land, “ensuring areas that should be considered for additional protection are assessed and reclassified appropriately. With over 3,000 parcels of stewardship land across NZ, we are focusing on developing an assessment strategy... Ensuring stewardship land has adequate protection is a priority and the Minister of Conservation has requested DOC consider options to deliver this work with greater urgency.”

NZCA papers earlier this year said work was being done on the development of a prioritised five-year work programme known as the “Reclassification of Stewardship Land Project”, talks had been held with “our Treaty Partner” on a reclassification pilot project have been and decisions on this were expected in the first quarter of 2019. None of this work has publicly emerged and the answers to the select committee point to it not being progressed at all.

First published in Energy and Environment on July 4 2019

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