Statement on Biodiversity is where interests could collide
A new National Policy Statement will be a crucial part of the National Biodiversity Strategy (NZBS) as it gives councils instructions on how to protect biodiversity as well as giving it legal teeth. It will also be one of the more difficult areas politically as the strategy extends to cover privately owned land and thus creates tensions with property rights.
The Department of Conservation-led strategy document says national direction, such as a national policy statement, can guide how district and regional plans are developed. One of the recommendations of the Biodiversity Collaborative Group (BCG) - a stakeholder-led group that ran for 18 months from 2017 - was that a National Policy Statement for Indigenous Biodiversity (NPSIB) include a requirement for regional biodiversity strategies to be developed and for them to support any national biodiversity priorities.
The BCG spent 18 months developing a draft NPSIB along with recommendations for complementary and supporting measures and DOC is currently working on a proposed version for 2019.
The Group contained stakeholders ranging from environmental organisation, Iwi, farmers, industry and community groups. They found a lot of common ground, but as ever there were differences over key issues such as how to balance the need for economic development (particularly in energy security) and the rights of private landowners.
This will be a continuing policy tension in both the strategy and the NPSI, particularly in the area of renewable energy generation. Here, one Government priority of increasing renewable generation through sources such as wind and geothermal, could clash with the desire to protect and enhance biodiversity and other environmental priorities such as protecting landscapes.
A key recommendation of the BCG is that councils should be directed to map Significant Natural Areas in their plans. SNAs are currently in the RMA, but they are not defined and their treatment by councils is patchy. The process has also been contentious and in some districts, as landowners have been concerned that identification of privately-owned land as SNA means it is ‘locked up’ and cannot be used, or that the public may be given access.
The BCG laid out a process to identify such areas and to protect them. But even within the group there were differences. For instance, forestry owners were concerned the criteria could potentially result in plantation forests being identified as SNAs and this could prevent the ongoing productive use of this land.
The Collaborative Group’s report, itself lays out the continuing decline of biodiversity. Between 1996 and 2012, human activity caused the loss of nearly 71,000 hectares of native habitat, mostly in areas of lowlands, wetlands and coastal areas with 80% of native birds, 88% of lizards, and 100% of frogs threatened.
The report suggests tax incentives, a native species database, monitoring and increased funding for pest control in the 200-page document. It also recommends biodiversity coordination should be brought under the control of DOC.
Members of the Group also pointed out the current NZ Biodiversity Strategy is nearly 20 years old and has done little to stop the decline in biodiversity and attempts to draw a workable strategy which includes private land have not succeeded in the past. The DOC- led NZBS discussion document says there should be respect for property rights.
“Respect for property rights and their associated responsibilities, is essential to ensure a collaborative partnership between resource owners and users and public agencies”
However, the NZBS goes on to discuss internalising environmental costs, saying – “Where an activity imposes adverse effects on species, habitats or ecosystems, the costs of mitigating or remedying those impacts should be borne by those benefitting from the activity.”
The NZBS states that two-thirds of regions already have a regional biodiversity strategy or are in the process of developing one.
“These strategies should align with national priorities and support national frameworks such as monitoring. Regional biodiversity strategies are a way that large scale integrated landscape and catchment planning could drive action towards regional priorities across multiple players. As well as take into account linkages across ecosystems and include consideration of socio-ecological systems.
“Regional biodiversity strategies can enable national visibility of regional outcomes that will support national and regional investors to contribute to them. The new biodiversity strategy should also support local planning, such as iwi environmental management plans, and sector plans, for example for particular industries.”
The strategy also says that while conserving species, habitats and ecosystems is a priority, it does not preclude use or activities that would impact on them, where this is ecologically sustainable and does not result in their long-term decline.
Another potential area of debate is likely to arise from the strategy emphasising that priority should be given to conserving indigenous species over non-indigenous species when making management decisions. Most would agree with this, but hunting groups and trout fishers have strongly criticised decisions which impact on their interest areas in the past.
Ian Llewellyn is Co-Editor of Scoop and owner of Energy and Environment Business Alert - New Zealand's premier weekly newsletter for the environmental and energy sectors covering politics, parliament, policy and industry news.