Not all conservation land is the same

A good article on Newsroom about the impact of the new policy (they say they are consulting on it but they announced it in the Speech from the Throne) by the Government to ban all on conservation land.

The current law prohibits mining on what is called Section 4 land. This is around 40% of the DOC estate – the most precious, scenic etc such as National Parks.

The DOC estate is around 30% of NZ land, so currently 12% of all land in NZ can’t be mined. The Government has unilaterally (again not Labour policy before the election) now said 100% of the DOC estate will be closed for mining. Now much of the DOC estate is land with little conservation value – they call it stewardship land.

This unilateral change is a big thing for communities like the West Coast. Newsroom reports:

Kokshoorn, a fierce defender of any opportunity for his struggling district, says the proposed ban is ideologically driven and “doesn’t stack up.” The Resource Management Act is an effective safeguard and if those minerals – or other resources – can be responsibly developed on low-value parts of the DoC estate then that should be allowed, he says.

Yep this is why we have the RMA. It allows an Environment Court Judge to decide on a case by case basis if a particular mining proposal on a specific piece of land should proceed.

The footprint of the existing mining activities on the DoC estate is tiny – about 3,000 hectares.

That’s 30 square kms only, out of 90,000 square kms. That’s 0.033%.

At the end of May, there were 112 operations approved for access to the DoC estate nationwide – 12 for coal, 90 for gold and 10 for quarrying, including limestone.

So only 10% are coal mines. So this isn’t about climate change.

Former Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment Jan Wright looked at the issues around mining in the DoC estate three times.

She considered the DoC estate too large for the Crown not to get a return on it and argued in 2010 that lower value areas should be open for mining, or land swaps, if a net conservation benefit resulted.

Very sensible.

If a mining company wants to mine say 5 hectares of low value conservation land, let them do so if in exchange they arrange for say 25 hectares of higher value land to be donated to the conservation estate. A win win.

The new Government declined a request to mine a 12-hectare sliver of Doc stewardship land as part of a development at Te Kuha, inland from Westport, approved last year by independent planning commissioners. The bulk of the project is in the adjoining Buller District Council-managed water catchment.

Sage and Woods said the economic benefits from the project were insufficient to offset the irreversible damage to the unique and nationally significant conservation values in that part of the DoC estate.

The venture has gone to court to challenge the ruling. Mining the four million tonnes of high-value coking coal would have employed about 50 people for 16 years and delivered an estimated $130 million of value through coal sales, royalties and blending gains for other coal miners in the area.

As well as rehabilitating the 109-hectare mine site, including direct transfer of at least 15 hectares of vegetation and the creation of 50 square-metres of lakes, the venture had also offered to fund a 25-year management programme over 5000 hectares in the nearby Orikaka Forest and a heritage reserve at the Charming Creek mine site.

5,000 hectares for 109 hectares and the Government said no!


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