7 Aug 2009

'Clean slate needed' on Maori land dispute

6:40 pm on 7 August 2009

Maori forest landowners say the Government needs to start again with a clean slate if it wants to solve a 100-year-old dispute.

The Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry is reviewing its policies about land covered by the South Island Landless Natives Act (SILNA) of 1906.

More than a century ago, 57,000 hectares was given to several thousand Maori as part of economic redress for land taken unjustly, but the land has never delivered the promised economic returns.

The Crown fears Maori could clear fell high-value native forest sections. Seven years ago the Government set aside $20 million to resolve the issue but agreements have been made on less than 3,000 hectares.

Steve Harteveld, chairman of the Rakiura Maori Land Trust, a Maori Incorporation that looks after three Stewart Island forest blocks, says the Crown has made very little progress because it poisoned negotiations by setting a limit on the money that could be spent.

The estate is currently managed through incorporations and trusts, and the forests are exempt from restrictions imposed on other forests which prevent them being clear felled. A voluntary moratorium on logging came into force ten years ago.

Since then, the Government has introduced a policy with a range of options, including protecting the forests under conservation status, which are negotiated with forest owners,

The ministry is holding a series of hui from the end of the month, to get feedback on this policy.

MAF director of natural resources Mike Jebson says up to 6,000 hectares of the forest has been assessed by the Department of Conservation and the Nature Heritage Fund as significant.

He says the ministry is trying to invite owners to either preserve the best of the forest in perpetuity or to bring it into sustainable forest management.