Flooding Ruahine conservation land unlawful

A Department of Conservation proposal to allow high value conservation land in the Ruahine Forest Park to be flooded to build the Ruataniwha water storage lake in Hawke’s Bay is unlawful, Forest & Bird said today.

Plans to revoke the conservation park status of the 22 hectares of high value conservation land to be flooded and then to swap it for a block of private land were both unlawful, Forest & Bird says in a submission to the Department of Conservation (DOC).

“This proposed revocation and land swap will result in the destruction of river habitat and mature podocarp and beech forest, which is home to a number of threatened wildlife species, including native bats,” Forest & Bird Group Manager Campaigns and Advocacy Kevin Hackwell said.

“The Conservation Act does not allow specially protected land such as this to be swapped. This revocation is being proposed to get around the Act’s restrictions but it is unlawful.”

Revoking the conservation park status to allow the building of the water storage lake would also be contrary to the department’s Conservation General Policy, which guides DOC’s operations, and its Hawke’s Bay Conservation Management Strategy, the submission says.

An assessment done for the department that claimed conservation values would be enhanced by the land swap was perfunctory and inaccurate, the submission says. It was based mainly on information from Hawke’s Bay Regional Investment Co. Ltd, the Hawke’s Bay Regional Council-owned company which is backing the Ruataniwha dam proposal.

“The assessment was very poor. It is based on assumptions which in some instances are plain wrong – for example that all the habitats in the conservation land are represented elsewhere in the Ruahine Forest Park,” Kevin Hackwell said.

The assessment says the presence of long-tailed bats in the forest to be flooded should not be considered now, because it wasn’t raised in the department’s submission on the Ruataniwha Dam resource consents. But Forest & Bird in 2013 highlighted the slashing of DOC’s submission from 32 pages to just two paragraphs around the time that officials met with then Conservation Minister Nick Smith.

Removing the conservation park status and the land swap would be necessary for the building of a dam to create the 450 hectare Ruataniwha water storage lake on the Makaroro River. The Ruahine Forest Park land is part of a larger area of mature beech and podocarp forest and regenerating bush that would be flooded.

Forest & Bird also opposes the Ruataniwha dam and irrigation scheme because farmers adopting intensive farming as a result of the irrigation scheme would not be required to meet nitrogen limits set to safeguard the Tukituki River catchment’s ecosystem health. This aspect of the scheme has been sent back to the Board of Inquiry that approved the project as the result of a successful High Court appeal by Forest & Bird, Fish & Game and the Environmental Defence Society.

Download a copy of the Forest & Bird submission.