18 Nov 2014

Council okays native bush clearance

9:23 am on 18 November 2014

The Westland District Council has approved the clearance of more than 1500 hectares of native bush for farming and mining in the past 15 years.

West Coast Forrest

Native Vegetation clearance in South Westland. Photo: Supplied

The council is responsible for all the land between Hokitika and Haast on the South Island's West Coast.

Information obtained by Radio New Zealand under the Official Information Act showed that in the past 15 years it had consented the clear-felling of 1542 hectares of native bush on private land for farming, and to a lesser extent mining.

District planner Rebecca Beaumont said some bush that had been cleared would not have been significant, which was why consents were granted.

She admitted some would be important in terms of biodiversity, but said with the majority of the district's land under Department of Conservation control, landowners must be allowed to "get on with it".

"For Westland, as a small council, and as an area with 85 percent of our land managed by the Department of Conservation, it is a balancing act for us. It's important to our council that we continue to allow people, if they haven't got significant vegetation to get on and do work on their own land."

South Westland tourism operator and conservation ecologist Gerry McSweeney said the privately owned forests, which had been cleared, were among the rarest these days.

He said DOC forests in Westland consisted largely of mountain tops, isolated valleys and steep faces, with most forests on river flats and sea coasts long gone.

"As you come down the West Coast, especially in Westland District, it's the valley floors, what we call the alluvial forests, the flood plain forests, that are the rarest - because those are the best soils, so they were always the first forests to be cleared by farmers and early foresters. Of course today they support a vibrant dairy industry," he said.

Haast beef farmer and crayfisherman Kerry Eggeling had recently cleared about 12 hectares of rimu and kahikatea forest and converted it into pasture.

He said with the vast majority of Westland in conservation land, the forests were sufficiently protected.

Mr Eggeling was adamant that as the owner of the land, it was his to develop. He said he had plenty of hurdles getting a consent for the clearance, and would not bother with the hassle again.

"I paid big money for the land, with the intention of developing it. As I say, to take me two years to get a resource consent to clear it ... because you've got to consult with neighbours, whether it be the Department of Conservation, or Fish and Game ... there's a creek runs up through the property, I had to stay twelve metres away from the creek. I had to mitigate any water that went into the creek."

Forest and Bird campaigns and advocacy manager Kevin Hackwell said it was terrible the country was still losing lowland forests.

He said there was a national policy statement under the Resource Management Act for coastal areas and waterways, and one for biodiversity was long overdue.

"It is an issue that still causes a lot of problems, there's a lot of inconsistency between different parts of the country. It would be good if we could have some consistency, particularly when it comes to protecting our native biodiversity, in the lowland areas, where we know how incredibly rare it is, and therefore how important it is to protect it where it does still exist."

The Ministry for the Environment said a draft statement was consulted on in early 2011, with 426 submissions which raised questions and issues with the proposed policy. It said the proposal was on hold pending reforms to the Resource Management Act.

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