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Indep. Panel To Review W. Coast Native Forest

Independent Panel will review future of Timberlands West Coast's areas of native forest

The Minister of Conservation Hon Sandra Lee has announced that an independent panel is to review and make recommendations to the Government on the future management of Timberlands West Coast's areas of native forest.

“This review will take us one step closer towards implementing the Government’s policy to end all logging of Crown-managed native forests on the West Coast,” Ms Lee said.

The two future management options the panel will consider are
 merging areas of the native forest into the existing conservation estate; or
 retaining areas of the native forest in Crown ownership as unalienated land, also known as Unallocated Crown Land (UCL).

“The panel will make an assessment of the most appropriate future management regime for each parcel of native forest," said Ms Lee. "If the Crown wishes to dispose of Timberlands West Coast native forest land that is re-designated as Unallocated Crown Land, it will give Ngai Tahu the first right of refusal as required in terms of their Treaty settlement with the Crown."

Ms Lee said the panel would use assessment criteria developed by the Nature Heritage Fund, as well as the Technical Advisory Group's criteria for land allocation, and is required to have regard to the purposes of the Reserves Act 1977, the Conservation Act 1987 and the National Parks Act 1980.

The Nature Heritage Fund process involves five sequential tests for assessing natural areas, comprising:
 Representativeness—the extent to which the particular area is representative of the full range of vegetation variety that was originally present in the natural landscape
 Sustainability—the extent to which the particular area is likely to continue to be viable
 Landscape integrity—the extent to which the particular area contributes to and maintains the original integrity of the landscape
 Amenity utility—the extent to which the particular area would contribute to the physical and spiritual welfare of the local people
 Feasibility—the prime aim is the recognition of and legal protection for the conservation values of the indigenous ecosystems

"I have no wish to pre-empt the independent panel's findings but given the high conservation value of much of these forests, it is highly predictable that a substantial area will be transferred to DOC to manage on behalf of all New Zealanders," Ms Lee said.

Members of the panel are
 Dr Gerry McSweeney, a West Coast ecotourism operator, with a Ph.D in plant ecology who has expert botanical and wildlife knowledge of local forests;
 Dr Les Molloy, an international natural heritage consultant, based in Lower Hutt;
 Bruce Watson, an independent conservation consultant from Hokitika;
 Bruce Hamilton, a Westport dairy farmer who has previously chaired Federated Farmers' Land Committee as well as the West Coast Conservation Board; and
 Mike Harding, an independent conservation consultant from Waitohi in South Canterbury.

The independent panel is required to make its recommendations to the Government by 29 September.

Media Contact
Fraser Folster, Press Secretary, 04 471 9821 or 025 947 795

Terms of Reference for the Independent Panel of Experts

1. The independent review panel is to report to the ad hoc committee of Ministers on which areas of the indigenous forest lands formerly managed by Timberlands West Coast should be administered as conservation land, and which areas should be retained as Unallocated Crown Land (UCL).

2. All land having conservation values or potential values should be included in the conservation land category. In considering the suitability of any land for conservation purposes the independent panel of experts shall review the conclusions of the report titled "Inventory and Assessment of Crown-Owned Forest Managed by Timberlands West Coast" and they should inform themselves using the best available other information and assessment, and where necessary by rapid field inspection.

3. In judging the suitability for allocation to conservation the panel shall:
(i) apply the criteria of the Nature Heritage Fund;
(ii) have regard to the "criteria for land allocation" used by the Technical Advisory Group in 1986/87;
(iii) have regard to the purposes of the Reserves Act 1977, Conservation Act 1987 and National Parks Act 1980.

1. The independent panel shall make written recommendations to the ad hoc committee of Ministers, and shall include maps and schedules of land showing their recommendations.

Working Arrangements

2. Servicing of the Panel including payment of fees and allowances, travel arrangements, transport, supply of information, production of maps, reports etc will be the responsibility of the Director-General of Conservation with assistance from [LINZ, TWC].

3. The panel will be appointed and ready to commence work by 1 August, and will have completed their reports for presentation to Ministers no later than 29 September 2000.

Assessment Criteria—The Nature Heritage Fund Criteria

4. The Nature Heritage Fund, (formerly the Forest Heritage Fund) is a contestable Ministerial fund that was established in 1990 to help achieve the objectives of the Indigenous Forest Policy. In 1998 the scope of the fund was widened to include non-forest ecosystems. The purpose of the fund is to protect indigenous ecosystems that represent the full range of natural diversity originally present in the New Zealand landscape by providing incentives for voluntary conservation.

5. The Nature Heritage Fund has developed a set of criteria for the consistent evaluation of natural areas. They have received those criteria through a consultative process, and revised them to improve their utility in discriminating between sites warranting protection in the national interest and those which do not. The criteria are used routinely by the Fund, the Nga Whenua Rahui Committee and the Queen Elizabeth the Second National Trust in evaluating applications for funding assistance. They have been used in the assessment of more than 1,250 applications resulting in the protection of more than quarter of a million hectares of private land.

6. The criteria are set out in Appendix 2 of the Fund's Application Form and are explained more fully in pages 30-33 of the Fund's 1995 report on Implementing Biodiversity Conservation. Further explanation and justification for the criteria can be found in O'Connor KF, Overmars FB, Ralston MM (1990) Land Evaluation for Nature Conservation; Foreman (1992) and Harding (1996).

7. The criteria provides five systematic sequential "sieves" or tests for assessing natural areas:
 representativeness;
 sustainability;
 landscape integrity;
 amenity utility;
 feasibility and funding criteria.

These criteria can be further qualified by consideration of:
 naturalness (the extent to which an area is already modified);
 viability (the extent to which an area can sustain natural values in the long term);
 restoration potential (the extent to which the original ecosystem can be restored—or is capable of natural regeneration).

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