Compensation claims for landowners are on the rise on the West Coast as the government reflects on its new biodiversity policy.
Associate Environment Minister James Shaw said a draft National Indigenous Biodiversity Policy Statement (NSPIB) will soon be released for consultation. It will establish criteria for boards to identify and protect Significant Natural Areas (ANS) on private lands.
Some West Coast residents are calling the policy a “land grab”, which will block land and prevent development. Shaw said some activity would still be allowed on ANS.
The mayor and deputy mayor of Buller wrote to Shaw this week asking for the West Coasters to be compensated for any restrictions placed on their land.
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Mayor Jamie Cleine and Deputy Sharon Roche are also members of the Te Tai O Poutini Plan Committee tasked with drafting a district plan for the area. The couple did not vote with the committee when they decided to reject a report on the matter that included a map of potential SCNs.
They wrote to Shaw and Nanaia Mahuta to call for open dialogue and compensation for the residents of the West Coast.
The report showed that the majority of native vegetation on the west coast was a potential ANS, the couple said. The problem was causing “great anxiety,” they said.
The region has 87 percent of its land under the Department of Conservation, with only the remaining 13 percent available for private property and development.
The letter said the mayors understood the government was considering compensating landowners possibly with biodiversity credits in recognition of the value of SNA land.
Compensation was “essential in the context of the west coast,” he said.
They called on ministers to engage with mayors so that they can “have an informed conversation with our communities”.
Forest and bird conservation advocate Jen Miller said it was “crucial” to help landowners protect native habitats on their lands. Support can take the form of education, counseling, financial assistance with fencing or pest control, or tariff relief.
The QEII Trust and the Nature Heritage Fund could be better equipped to acquire land in need of protection, she said.
However, Miller said identifying important areas does not mean the land cannot be touched.
“It just ensures that natural values are taken into account when activities are proposed that would affect them. “
“Considering how many species New Zealand has already lost and how many species remain on the brink, it doesn’t seem unreasonable to clarify how we are going to protect our remaining native habitats. “
When asked if the door is open to compensation, Shaw said the government “is currently working on a range of options.”
Federated Farmers biodiversity spokesperson Chris Allen said the cost of protecting land should not be borne by landowners.
Pest control, weed control and fencing were all necessary to maintain native biodiversity and cost money.
“Landowners should be supported by tariff relief. They still have to pay general tariffs and they can’t do as much as they normally would, ”he said.
He believed that the West Coast could be treated as a special case since much of its land was already protected by DOC.
Allen is part of the Biodiversity Collaborative Group, which is made up of landowners, tangata whenua and environmental groups. Its 2018 report recommended that the government take “complementary and accompanying measures” to help landowners protect the natural values of their lands.
He recommended to the Treasury, the Fiscal Working Group and the IRD to investigate tax relief to encourage retention of native cover on private land. He also suggested that funds be made available to landowners for maintenance and to increase funding for the QEII National Trust and Ngā Whenua Rāhui and to provide tariff relief for protected lands.