A new Bill before Parliament needs to be strengthened before it can stop long-term biodiversity loss on New Zealand’s nationally-treasured high country landscapes, says Forest & Bird.
The Crown Pastoral Land Reform Bill, due for its first reading in the House this week, is a significant opportunity to improve management of 1.2 million hectares of crown pastoral lease land.
The Bill ends tenure review, the process by which some areas of crown pastoral lease land have been converted into private ownership.
“The end to tenure review is long overdue – by privatising ecosystems of the rarest and most threatened species, it’s been a bad deal for nature,” says Forest & Bird Chief Executive Kevin Hague.
The Bill also includes a positive move towards outcome-based decision making, but those outcomes currently still require a balancing of environmental and farming interests.
“We strongly support the intention of the Bill. But the outcomes as written are likely to perpetuate the loss of significant biodiversity, landscape and cultural values,” says Mr Hague.
“Nature is at breaking point already. We’ve lost so much of our high country, where bad decisions by the agencies involved have led to development and dairy farms.
"This is a tragedy. Tussock drylands are among our least protected ecosystems and home to many threatened plant and animal species – these areas need our protection.”
Crown pastoral lease land still makes up about five percent of New Zealand’s land area, in areas ranging from South Marlborough, through the Mackenzie Country, and into Otago and Southland.
“There has been significant mismanagement of this important public land and time is running out to fix this. We now need clear and uncompromising statutory direction and a major overhaul of the institutions involved,” says Mr Hague.
Forest & Bird seeks a number of changes to the Bill, including changing the outcomes to prioritise inherent natural values and adding the opportunity for the public to have input into discretionary consent decisions.
“New Zealanders care deeply about these iconic landscapes; they get to the heart of who we are. We want to see the natural values on this public land safeguarded, to provide a better future for people and planet.”