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Snails go back to court

*Snails go back to court*

MEDIA RELEASE
Save Happy Valley Coalition Incorporated
30.6.06

Save Happy Valley Coalition Incorporated announced today that it will go to the Environment Court to save the last remaining 5 hectares of habitat of the critically endangered giant land snail *Powelliphanta* "Augustus" from Solid Energy's Stockton mine.

"We have been forced to go to Court because the public have been excluded from having any say on this issue," said spokesperson Frances Mountier. "The Minister of Conservation, Chris Carter, has failed to ensure the survival of this 'absolutely protected' species."

"We have obtained a legal opinion which advises we have a strong case that these snails must be protected, and we will pursue that protection through the courts," said Ms Mountier.

Save Happy Valley Coalition Inc is seeking:
- Declarations that the mining of the ridgeline will destroy the habitat of *Powelliphanta* "Augustus" and thereby cause it's extinction and, as such, will breach Solid Energy's duty to avoid, remedy or mitigate adverse effects on the environment. - An enforcement order preventing Solid Energy destroying the habitat of *Powelliphanta* "Augustus".

In April, Solid Energy was granted a permit under the Wildlife Act to move the snails from the edge of the Stockton coal mine before mining commenced.

"It's outrageous that the Minister made this decision, in light of overwhelming scientific advice that this will result in the extinction of the species," said Ms Mountier.

Professor Timothy New of La Trobe University in Melbourne reviewed the evidence and concluded "the only option with high likelihood of retaining the snail population is absolute protection of the remaining habitat and its surrounds …"

"It is the Government's responsibility to protect wildlife, but this decision ignored the scientific advice from both the Department of Conservation and Professor New . This has forced a second conservation group to go to court to uphold the protection this species enjoys under law. This Government has lost its way and can no longer be trusted to protect the rich diversity of New Zealand's internationally unique wildlife," concluded Ms Mountier.


RELEASE ENDS

*Notes*
1. This matter has not been considered under the RMA

2. In December 2005 The Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society sought and won a declaration from the High Court that protected species, such as these snails, are protected even when they live on coal mining licence land.

3. The main part of the population of *Powelliphanta*"Augustus" lives on less than 5 hectares of land. Solid Energy was forced, by Forest and Bird's High Court declaration, to apply to the Ministers of Conservation and Energy for permits to move these snails before they mine their habitat.

4. Scientific evidence was presented to the Ministers to help make a decision. The following are quotes taken from that evidence:

1. The Department of Conservation's recommendation to the Minister concluded: "If a decision to grant the application is made, the Department has serious reservations as to whether the proposed mitigation package will protect the snail population".
2. An independent review of the DOC science by Professor T. New of Latrobe University, Melbourne, found that "the only option with high likelihood of retaining the snail population is absolute protection of the remaining habitat and its surrounds, the last to buffer against any foreseeable disturbance or contamination."
3. In March 2006, the Biodiversity Committee of New Zealand's leading scientific academy, The Royal Society, put out a statement: "From the point of view of biodiversity, we would recommend that you take the ideal, courageous and responsible decision that only the Minister of Conservation can make, i.e. to protect this unique species, by preventing the relocation of the snails and stopping the destruction of their original habitat."

5. In April 2006 the Ministers of Conservation and Energy granted a Wildlife permit to relocate 94% of the population of * Powelliphanta* "Augustus".

6. The remaining 6% of the population, some of which is on conservation land, will be subject to rockfall as the ridgeline is 'deconstructed' with blasting and heavy machinery. DOC has granted a concession to Solid Energy to drop the equivalent of several truckloads (270 tonnes) of rock at a time onto the conservation estate, without regard for the snails living there.

7. While Chris Carter has imposed some conditions on the relocation of the snails, these are insufficient to save the species from extinction. For example, the area that the snails are to be relocated to will only hold 85 individuals, far short of the minimum viable population of 250.

8. DNA studies by Massey University have confirmed that * Powelliphanta* "Augustus" is a separate species which diverged from its closest relative more than 1.5 million years ago.

9. Save Happy Valley Coalition Inc has been campaigning to save *Powelliphanta* "Augustus", and has been actively involved in raising public awareness at Mt Augustus.

10. Save Happy Valley Coalition Inc is working stop the proposed open-cast coal mine in Happy Valley which is also on the Stockton Plateau and only 4 km from Mt Augustus.

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