11 Feb 2011

Landowners threaten future of wildlife sanctuary

8:46 pm on 11 February 2011

Landowners angry at changes to a trust board are threatening to tear down part of a pest fence protecting one of the largest enclosed wildlife sanctuaries in New Zealand.

Maungatautari Ecological Island Trust in Waikato is attempting to make half of its board members local iwi or hapu and the other half a mix of landowners and the community.

The four landowners are accusing the trust of disrespect because the 47km of fence is on their land and they feel they are being squeezed out.

Warren Charleston, of the Maungatautari Landowners Council, says they feel threatening the sanctuary is the only way to get people to listen.

Co-chair of Maungatautari Ecological Island Trust Tony Wilding says mana whenua were originally in a partnership on the board when the sanctuary was created in 2001 but that partnership eroded over time.

He says they have told the landowners they can appoint the other half of the board but have not received a response.

An authority on habitat restoration says mediators need to be brought in to save the sanctuary.

Bruce Clarkson, Dean of Science and Engineering at Waikato University, says the sanctuary resembles what New Zealand forest would have been like before humans arrived, and cutting the fence would have catastrophic consequences.

Mr Clarkson believes someone such as the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment needs to step in.