Forest and Bird to appeal Ruataniwha decision

Forest & Bird has today lodged an appeal against the High Court judgment approving the Department of Conservation’s decision to downgrade and swap public land in the Ruahine Forest Park.

The land that DOC wants to give away is needed for the controversial Ruataniwha Dam project which, if it proceeds, would provide for irrigation of around 25,000 hectares of farm land in central Hawke’s Bay.

Forest & Bird challenged the decision by the Director-General of Conservation last year, saying not only was it illegal, but it also had implications throughout New Zealand for specially protected land under the Conservation Act 1987.

Although High Court judge Justice Palmer agreed with many of Forest & Bird's legal arguments, such as holding that the status change was made to enable the Director-General to swap the land, he ultimately found DOC's decision was within the broad purpose of the Conservation Act. That finding is the central issue in the Forest & Bird appeal.

"Allowing this decision to stand could mean that any part of New Zealand’s specially protected conservation land can be traded away and the special values of the land removed to advance commercial interests. It sets a precedent for up to 1 million hectares of specially protected conservation land throughout New Zealand, which includes forest parks, conservation parks, and ecological and wilderness areas," says Forest & Bird lawyer Sally Gepp.

"The judge made the point that this case goes to the heart of the purpose of the Conservation Act, which is why it is such a significant case for Forest & Bird, and for New Zealand. We believe the High Court was wrong to hold that the decision was consistent with the Act’s purpose."

Forest & Bird’s Hawke's Bay Conservation and Volunteer Manager, Amelia Geary says: "This issue goes far beyond Hawke’s Bay and the Ruataniwha Dam. Even though the Ruataniwha Dam project is looking unlikely to proceed given the recent drastic slump in dairy prices and farmers’ reluctance to sign up to buy water from the scheme, it is still important to challenge this precedent-setting decision."