The Big Dig

Thousands of New Zealanders have rallied against the Government's plans to open up national parks and other top conervation areas to mining.

In Auckland, over 50,000 people took to the streets to tell the government that they didn't want mining in their national parks.

In Auckland, over 50,000 people took to the streets to tell the government that they didn't want mining in their national parks.

Forest & Bird has played a significant role in the debate and the call to action to protect New Zealand’s most precious areas.

On March 14, Forest & Bird revealed the Government’s plans to allow mining in 7000 hectares of conservation land until now protected under Schedule 4 of the Crown Minerals Act.

Forest & Bird revealed that the Government had scaled back and delayed announcing its plans because of public opposition to Economic Development Minister Gerry Brownlee’s announcement last year of a mining “stocktake”.

Forest & Bird also disclosed the Government’s plans to survey hundreds of thousands of hectares of other national parks and prime conservation areas for their mining potential.

New Zealand’s most important conservation land has been safeguarded from mining since 1997 when the previous National government created Schedule 4 of the
Crown Minerals Act.

When the Government finally announced its mining plans on March 22, it tried to soften the blow by including news of a conservation fund and other areas to be added
to Schedule 4 protection.

These areas had simply been waiting for official protection since the last review of
Schedule 4 in 2008.

The conservation fund seems a perverse way of doing conservation work – destroy conservation areas then use the fund to try to restore them. Prime Minister John Key talked about “surgical” techniques to mine conservation land without doing much
damage.

However, the minerals targeted by the Government are found in low concentrations so open-cast mining – not “surgical” mining – is the most likely way to extract them.

“In New Zealand, you get an average 3 grams of gold for every 1400 kilograms of rock that’s dug up. A mining company is not going to drill small, unobtrusive holes to
process huge quantities of rock,” Forest & Bird Advocacy Manager Kevin Hackwell says.

“In Paparoa National Park, for example, river terraces are being looked at. Open-cast mining is the only way to get at any coal or gold there,” he says. 

Forest & Bird members and many other New Zealanders have spoken up to oppose the Government’s plans. Ten of thousands (50,000 at the Auckland march) of people marched in anti-mining rallies around New Zealand and thousands of submissions were made against the Government plans before May 26.

Forest & Bird led much media coverage of the issue, with Kevin Hackwell and new Conservation Advocate Quentin Duthie interviewed on TV, radio and reported in
newspapers across the country.

The Government’s plans are an unprecedented attack on New Zealand’s most precious natural landscapes, plants and creatures, and Forest & Bird will continue the fight to
protect them from mining.

“In the search for economic growth, we need to focus on our strengths,” Hackwell says.
“There is no comparison with the scale of minerals in Australia and we should not just try to follow them. Our brand is 100% Pure New Zealand. We need to be smarter in our use of conservation land. Conservation, recreation and tourism will make far higher long-term returns and create many more jobs than destructive, short-term mining.”

By Marina Skinner