Land exchange lacks legal basis

Forest & Bird remains opposed to the swap of 22 hectares of Ruahine Forest Park for 170 hectares of private land saying it will not result in a “net gain for conservation” as stated by the Department of Conservation.

The investment arm of Hawke’s Bay Regional Council, the Hawkes Bay Regional Investment Company applied to DOC to exchange land required for the controversial Ruataniwha Water Storage scheme. The application was today granted by DOC’s Director General Lou Sanson.

Forest & Bird Legal counsel Peter Anderson says there are two critical issues at play here.

“Firstly we have the legal issue of whether an area legally protected by the Conservation Act and deemed a Forest Park can be demoted to stewardship land, to allow it to be removed from the Park. Secondly, there is the ecological argument that the land already protected and part of Ruahine Forest Park has far greater value than the land it’s being replaced with."

Peter Anderson says the 22 hectares is a lowland riverine ecosystem that contains significant and distinct wetlands, a section of rare braided river, shrublands and forest that contains specific habitats for threatened species such as long tailed bat, New Zealand falcon, North Island fernbird, red mistletoe and indigenous fish species.

The land being exchanged is a poor cousin with less distinct wetlands, no braided river systems and is less likely to contain diversity of threatened fish.

“There is no legal justification for the land swap. If it were to proceed we will lose a threatened environment with rare ecosystems and species and be replacing it with land of far lesser ecological value and diversity” said Peter Anderson.