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Stewardship land review a “red rag to a bull”

Stewardship land review a “red rag to a bull”

First published in Energy and Environment on October 3 , 2019.

The Conservation Authority’s has been warned by its West Coast liaison board that proceeding with a review of the Department of Conservation’s stewardship land in the run up to the election would be a “red rag to a bull”.

The Authority has been monitoring DoC’s slow progress in reviewing the status of the land since the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment said in 2013 reclassification should be a priority.

DoC has for years said it is an ongoing process. In recent times it has prioritised some areas and said it would take a more systematic approach including a review on the West Coast where a large amount of land in the conservation estate is classed as stewardship.

A West Coast Tai Poutini Conservation Board liaison report to the Authority urged caution.

“Although DoC is seeking to proceed with this review, there is concern in the Board that the timing is not right for this and it will simply act as a “red rag to a bull” just over a year out from a General Election.

“The Supreme Court Ruataniwha Dam decision affirmed that a conservation land “stewardship” has almost all the protections of specially protected conservation land other than a ban on mining. As such, there is little immediate threat to these lands.

“Any review will ignite the West Coast debate that stewardship is just a holding category and that these lands could and should be allocated to private purposes and extractive industries.

“That is certainly the line being advanced by the most determined West Coast leader, Westland Mayor Bruce Smith. He was the driving force behind the 5,000 strong West Coast rally at the Taramakau Bridge opening in 2018 against conservation protections.

“His Facebook site “The Coaster’s Club” is widely popular and he would delight in a head to head battle over the future management of stewardship land. The new Conservation Board is aware that there has been considerable cooling in enthusiasm for the conservation land mining ban originally announced in the address from the throne in the opening of the new Parliament. In part this reflects a greater recognition of the difference in scale and extent and acceptability of alluvial gold mining versus coal mining on the West Coast.”

The liaison board said the new Conservation Board composition has been described by the local newspaper as a “takeover by greenies of the West Coast Conservation Board” and a blow to the mining industry. Extractive industries had also expressed disappointment.

“The new Board composition means that the Department will face greater challenges in accountability where there are questions or conflicts over the management of conservation lands so that it is consistent with conservation plans.”

DoC told the Authority it had hired more staff to work on the “Reclassification of Stewardship Land Project” and work continues across the four South Island regions and the Central North Island region. “DoC is progressing the work in partnership with its Treaty partners and looking to agree on areas to progress to the next stage. Depending on the preferences of each Treaty partner, the next stage will involve gathering technical information and looking at cultural values for the land. DoC has also met with members of the relevant conservation boards to share information on the review.”

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.

However, there is a tension between those who see the exercise as giving greater protection to more land and those who want it to free up land for other uses. This tension is particularly strong on the West Coast.

First published in Energy and Environment on October 3 , 2019.

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