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Fight to Save Threatened Snail Heads to High Court

12 December 2005

Fight to Save Threatened Snail Heads to High Court

Forest and Bird has applied to the High Court for a declaration as to whether Solid Energy needs the permission of the Ministers of Conservation and Energy to kill a protected species by mining the habitat of the threatened giant land snail, Powelliphanta "Augustus".

The application will be heard in the Wellington High Court on Tuesday 13 December from 10.00 am and on Thursday 15 December.

Note for illustrations editors A high resolution photo of the Powelliphanta "Augustus" is available on request.

Background
The High Court has been asked to rule on the interpretation of s71 of the Wildlife Act 1953, apreviously unused section of the law.

The outcome of the case could determine whether Powelliphanta "Augustus" goes extinct. The giant land snail's only known habitat is a five hectare area on Mt Augustus on the Stockton Plateau north east of Westport. Almost all of the snail's habitat covers a coal seam of that Solid Energy proposes to begin mining before the end of this year.

All species of Powelliphanta land snails are absolutely protected under the Wildlife Act.

Solid Energy New Zealand Ltd has applied under section 71 of the Wildlife Act to the Ministers of Conservation and Energy for consent to move by hand some Powelliphanta "Augustus" to a site not threatened by mining. Solid Energy then proposes to mine and remove the summit of Mt Augustus. This is likely to result in the killing of all giant land snails not previously moved.

Technical advice from the Department of Conservation is that it is uncertain whether the translocation proposal will work. If it fails, then P. "Augustus" will become extinct.

Section 71 of the Act provides that the consent of both the Minister of Conservation and the Minister of Energy is required before Solid Energy does any act in respect of absolutely protected wildlife, Forest and Bird solicitor Teall Crossen said

Solid Energy is on record as believing that both mining the site and thereby killing most, if not all giant land snails, or moving the snails by digger is authorised by its coal mining licence.

The Crown considers that consent is required under s71 of the Wildlife Act to move the giant land snails by hand. However, if Solid Energy moved the snails and their habitat by digger, this would not require the consent of the Ministers.

Forest and Bird's legal advice is that the consent of both Ministers is required under s71 to kill the giant land snails by coal mining, and to move the snails by hand or by digger.

Forest and Bird filed documents seeking a declaration on 21 November 2005. The High Court has granted an urgent hearing.

To date s71 has not been tested by the Courts. Forest and Bird has sought a Court ruling because there are at least three divergent views about how s71 should be applied in relation to the fate of these giant land snails.

The proceedings are important to ensure that any decision made by the Ministers under s71 is made with a correct understanding of the law as determined by the High Court.

Forest and Bird sought an assurance from the Ministers of Conservation and Energy that neither Minister would make a decision until the matter has been resolved by the Court. The Minister of Conservation advised Forest and Bird in a letter of 28 November that, "I have decided not to make a decision on the translocation application at this time, and may well wait until the High Court has issued a decision. However, that will depend on the timing of the High Court hearing and any other relevant matters."

ENDS


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