Jobs for the boys (including a Nat) – govt sets up two panels to work on the reclassification of DOC’s stewardship land

It’s great to see former Cabinet ministers – two of them elderly white men – landing jobs as members of panels set up to work on the reclassification of “stewardship land”.

Moreover, it’s great to see the government’s fondness for diversity resulting in a former National cabinet minister, Christopher Finlayson, being among the appointees, along with former Labour ministers Philip Woollaston and Mita Ririnui. Remember them?

They have been appointed to two “independent” expert national panels tasked with coming up with revised classification recommendations to the Conservation Minister.

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

We are talking about a hefty chunk of the country.  Around 30% of conservation land is stewardship areas, approximately 2,508,000 ha – or 9% of New Zealand.

Stewardship areas are ‘conservation areas’ under the Conservation Act which are managed to protect the natural and historic values present on the land.

They can be disposed of, exchanged or reclassified to add greater protection that  reflects their conservation values.   

We wonder if Ririnui might be temped to consider the potential of at least some of this land for golfing purposes. We recall golf being mentioned in despatches when he announced his retirement from Parliamentary politics some 10 years ago.

Cycling, too, come to think of it.

The appointments – and the objectives of the two panels – was set out in one of three press statements posted since we last reported on what our ministers are up to.

Government speeds up stewardship land reclassification

On the one hand, this statement tells us the Government is accelerating the reclassification of stewardship land to ensure land with high conservation value is protected for future generations to enjoy.

On the other, it emphasises the importance of doing it right:  correctly classifying land with high conservation value is “vital”, to ensure it is protected for its natural and cultural heritage and safeguarded for the future.

Moreover, the statement says the work is “complex, costly and time-consuming.”

Quickening the pace of a complex task to guarantee greater accuracy – at first blush – is contradictory, but the government intends streamlining and simplifying, so let;s not quibble.

Here’s what Acting Conservation Minister Dr Ayesha Verrall said:

“Reclassification fits with the Government’s manifesto commitment to protect, preserve and restore our natural heritage and biodiversity and is one of the Department of Conservation’s (DOC) core roles and responsibilities.

“However the current process of reclassifying stewardship land is complex, costly and time-consuming. The Government intends to progress legislation to streamline, speed up and simplify 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.”

This (we are assured) will also allow for “more efficient public consultation”.

More efficient, it should be noted.  Not more effective.

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

In the meantime, two independent expert national panels are being established, with their initial focus being on the Northern South Island and Western South Island.

These panels will include technical experts with capability in ecology, earth sciences, landscape, recreation, heritage and matauranga Māori and have been tasked with providing revised classification recommendations to the Conservation Minister.

The separatism that distinguishes “Maori” from “the public” pops up in the next sentence, which tells us there will be opportunities “for the public, stakeholders and iwi/Māori” to provide feedback on the recommendations through a public consultation process, prior to final decisions being made on the proposed reclassification.

At this stage it is anticipated it will take about eight months for each panel to undertake their work and provide recommendations.

Further details on public consultation will be announced “in due course”.

Explaining the need for this work to be done, Verrall said:

“There is considerable confusion over stewardship land status and ongoing debate over whether it is appropriate to allow economic activity in these areas. These new measures will remove ambiguity and provide clarity as to what conservation values are present and how much protection the land has.

“Today’s announcement recognises that many stewardship areas across New Zealand are home to threatened species and high-priority ecosystems. Reclassification will ensure appropriate protection of these areas which is critical to reversing the decline of indigenous biodiversity.

“It will also protect the cultural, historic and recreation values of stewardship areas for future generations,” Dr Ayesha Verrall said.

Christopher Finlayson, Philip Woollaston and Mita Ririnui will serve on “Panel One”, which initially will be focussed on the Northern South Island.

Pre-departure testing introduced for some travellers from Australia

This one deals with efforts to keep a tight seal on the Anzac bubble.

The Government is introducing pre-departure testing as an additional precautionary step for anyone who was in Victoria in the days leading up to the Victoria travel bubble pause

This means people flying to New Zealand from Australia must return a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours of departure if they have been in Victoria on or after 20 May and who are not otherwise prevented from travelling to New Zealand.

Anyone who has been in Victoria since 7:59pm on 25 May, cannot fly to New Zealand at all due to the travel pause in place.

Extra checks are in place at points of departure and arrival so any travellers who fall into this category, regardless of where in Australia they are flying to New Zealand from, must keep evidence of a negative pre-departure test on them at all times.

Failure to produce evidence could result in people being denied boarding, or penalties on arrival in New Zealand. Children under two years old are exempt.

The new pre-departure testing requirements will come into force for all flights arriving in New Zealand after 11.59pm (NZT) on 31 May 2021, to minimise disruption for those passengers with imminent departures. Before this time, either a pre-departure test, or test and self-isolation on arrival into New Zealand will be accepted for entry into the country.

All New Zealanders overseas should also register on www.safetravel.govt.nz to receive the latest official advice if the situation changes.

More information on pre-departure testing requirements can be found on the Unite Against COVID-19 website.

Major step in restoration of Lake Horowhenua

An agreement to buy land now being used for dairy farming to construct a nationally significant wetland is being hailed as a ’’major milestone in restoring the health of Lake Horowhenua”.

The land will be converted into a large wetland and indigenous vegetation area, with huge benefits for the water quality of Lake Horowhenua, Environment Minister David Parker said.

Over the years New Zealand has lost 90 per cent of its wetlands and many other precious ecosystems.

Lake Horowhenua has been badly degraded by pollution and poor management.

The wetland project is expected to improve water quality and the habitat for native fish, birds and plant species, while also creating up to 45 full time equivalent jobs over four years.

The Lake Horowhenua Water Quality Interventions Project received $11.2 million from the Government’s Jobs for Nature programme, towards a total project cost of $12.5 million.

The 142 hectare farm land was purchased for $6.7 million with Horizons Regional Council contributing $1 million and the rest coming from Jobs for Nature funding.

The project is a collaboration between Muaūpoko, Lake Horowhenua Trust (representing the owners of the lake), Ngāti Raukawa ki te Tonga, Horizons Regional Council, Horowhenua District Council, dairy farmers, horticulturalists and the wider Lake Horowhenua community.

Parker said:

“This project allows iwi/hapū, local government, land users and the community to realise their shared aspiration to restore the lake and its ecosystem, and ensure it can be enjoyed by future generations.”

The additional land could also allow other aspects to be incorporated into the design including a walkway between Lake Horowhenua and Lake Waiwiri (Papaitonga), forest and ecosystem restoration and recreational areas.

The Government is working with iwi/hapū, Horizons Regional Council, Horowhenua District Council and the wider community to develop an integrated plan across the lake catchment and beyond.

Horizons Regional Council will own the land and wetland once the project is completed.

The farm purchase comes on top of other Jobs for Nature initiatives to improve environmental outcomes around the region.

They include a $11.3 million riparian planting and stream fencing project to which central government contributed $4.6m. A $3.2 million project to enhance native fish populations through fish passage remediation has received $2.6m from the Government.

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