Mining and the Conservation Estate

I am a regular user and lover of our estate. I have done walks in Fiordland, tramps in the Tararuas, and think our estate is a wonderful thing.

NZ’s land area is 268,680 square kilometres which is 26,868,000 hectares.

administers 8,258,087 hectares which is 30.7358% of the total NZ land mass.

Now if someone was talking about bulldozing down 25% of the conservation estate and converting it into mines, skyscrapers and the like, I’d be first down at the picket line.

But am I against any whatsoever on the conservation estate? Of course not. Let us say a mine will take up 100 hectares. So that would reduce the conservation estate from 30.7358% of NZ to 30.7354% – a reduction of 0.0004%.

And how much income can be earnt from one mine? Well Pike River is expected to earn around $170 million a year of export income.

Overall there may be up to $240 billion of mineral wealth beneath our feet.

Now some are claiming any mining will undermine our clean green image and threaten our tourism industry. With all respect, that is hysterical nonsense. A reduction of from 30.7358% conservation estate to 30.7354% conservation estate will threaten tourism? Maybe if one was talking a 1% to 5% reduction, people might notice, but they won’t.

Just apply the common sense test to yourself. When you travel overseas, do you go to Wikipedia and check if there has ever been any mining on the conservation estate of a country you are travelling to? Do you think anyone else does?

Now this is not an argument for saying yes to every mining proposal made. They should be treated on a case by case basis, weighing up the particular conservation value of a location (not all parts of the estate are equal) and the likely economic value of mining there.  You’re not going to approve a mine in the middle of the Milford Track, but there are many areas where mining would barely be noticed. Again do it on a case by case basis.

There is a difference between a conservationist and a preservationist. A preservationist wants the status quo frozen for ever – preserved. They will argue passionately that every square metre of the conservation estate is sacred and must be preserved – that even one hectare less than the current 8,258,087 is evil.

A conservationist will look for the balance. They may say okay that 11 hectares of land has huge economic value. What if we purchased 500 hectares of land over there to replace it in the conservation estate. The conservation estate gets to grow, we get the economic benefits of the land’s economic value – a win/win. That is what we should look for.

Now some will argue all mining is evil and unsustainable and we should not do it. That is a valid viewpoint. However that viewpoint has consequences. It means less money for schools, less money for healthcare, lower wages and continuing a decline in the relative income gap with Australia and other countries.

As I said, I think one should take it on a case by case basis. The conservation estate is not something frozen in time. In fact generally it has been growing – as has the mining industry. One can expand both.

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