31 May 2021

Law changes considered to protect ecologically significant land

2:16 pm on 31 May 2021

The government is trying to speed up the process of deciding whether large tracts of ecologically important land should be given high protection status.

Blues skies, snow clad mountains in the background and a DOC sign

Ahuriri Conservation Park. Photo: RNZ Insight / Belinda McCammon

The stewardship land comprises about 10 percent of the country and contains valuable forests and homes to threatened species.

Acting Conservation Minister Dr Ayesha Verrall said reclassifying stewardship land to get full protection under the Conservation Act was expensive and time-consuming.

She said the government would make laws to streamline the process.

"So land with conservation value is identified and managed appropriately, while land with low or no conservation value can be considered for other uses.

"It's vital that land with high conservation value is classified correctly to ensure it is protected for its natural and cultural heritage and safeguarded for the future."

Cabinet decisions about the proposed legislation will be made later this year.

Meanwhile, it has set up independent expert panels to evaluate land in the north of the South Island and the West Coast - a process that is expected to take about eight months.

Panels will consider each Department of Conservation operation area sequentially. They will include technical experts and those with matauranga Māori.

Verrall said there would be opportunities for the public, stakeholders and iwi/Māori to provide feedback on the recommendations before any final decisions were made.

"There is considerable confusion over stewardship land status and ongoing debate over whether it is appropriate to allow economic activity in these areas," Verrall said.

"These new measures will remove ambiguity and provide clarity as to what conservation values are present and how much protection the land has."

What is stewardship land?

Stewardship land is the term given for much of the land that was allocated to the Department of Conservation when it was formed in 1987. It includes former state forest and Crown land that was considered to have conservation value.

"Stewardship" is essentially a holding status while it is waiting to be re-classified.

There are over 3000 parcels of stewardship land nationwide - totalling approximately 2,500,000 hectares - making up about a third of all the land administered by the Department of Conservation.

Some activities not permitted in national parks or reserves are allowed on stewardship land.

If the land has been identified as surplus to requirements, it can be disposed of.

Most stewardship land has not yet been reclassified due to the scale and complexity of this process.

Land that is part of active Treaty of Waitangi settlement negotiations will not be considered for re-classification.

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