Jamie Morton is the NZ Herald's science reporter.

Industry, green groups to drive nature policy

Environment Minister Nick Smith today announced that a new collaborative forum would sit at the heart of development of a new National Policy Statement (NPS) for biodiversity. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Environment Minister Nick Smith today announced that a new collaborative forum would sit at the heart of development of a new National Policy Statement (NPS) for biodiversity. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Seating environmental and industry groups at the same table is hoped to bolster new national policy on safeguarding nature on private land.

Environment Minister Nick Smith today announced that a new collaborative forum would sit at the heart of development of a new National Policy Statement (NPS) for biodiversity.

The policy roadmap is one of the latest being advanced by the Government under the Resource Management Act (RMA).

Others have already been put in place for freshwater management, renewable electricity generation, electricity transmission and coastal policy.

All regional and district plans by councils must give effect to the policies.

The biodiversity NPS forum, meeting over the next 18 months, would include groups Forest and Bird, the Environmental Defence Society (EDS), Federated Farmers and the Forest Owners' Association, with iwi also participating as treaty partners.

Councils would be involved as "active observers" with a similar role to their part in the joint Land and Water Forum, said Smith, who announced the collaboration at the EDS' annual conference in Auckland.

"One of the most challenging issues for councils and communities is improving the protection of our native species on private land while respecting the reasonable rights of owners to use their land for farming, forestry and other economic activities.

"This initiative is about bringing environmental groups and landowners together to develop clearer national policy on protecting the plants and animals that make New Zealand special."

Smith said that resolving the tension between rights of landowners to use their land and wider public interest of protecting native plants and animals was "difficult territory".

But he was encouraged by the goodwill of the groups that had agreed to come together for the work.

"This innovative approach to policy development has proved its success with the Land and Water Forum, which came about at the EDS's 2008 conference and which has enabled significant improvements in freshwater policy.

"This similar approach is possible because of the willingness and ambition of farmers, foresters, environmentalists and iwi to work together on improving how the Resource Management Act is applied in protecting our biodiversity on private land."

The new forum would begin work this year with a goal of completing it by mid 2018.

Forest and Bird: Collaboration could help tackle biodiversity crisis

Forest and Bird was "cautiously optimistic" that the joint effort would help New Zealand's struggling native wildlife, and streamline the process of protecting the environment.

The group's regional conservation manager, Jen Miller, said the country was facing a "biodiversity crisis", with nearly 1000 threatened species and another 2772 considered at risk.

All of the country's endemic marine mammal and frog species, and most endemic bat species, were either threatened or faced extinction.

"Currently, there's little incentive for councils to ensure their plans protect significant native habitat and maintain native biodiversity," Miller said.

"We hope that will change with the development of a NPS that tackles difficult issues around biodiversity on private land, and sets a clear requirement for better environmental outcomes."

Federated Farmers' biodiversity spokesperson, Chris Allen, echoed the sentiments, saying there was now a way to "come to a common understanding" of the pressures and priorities for biodiversity, on land and in water.

"From here we chart a way forward. Part of this will be agreeing on a national policy statement," he said.

"Alongside that, we have the opportunity to look at how we can up-scale 'action on the ground' partnerships."

Allen said one example was Hawkes Bay's Cape to City project, focusing on predator control and restoring plants and wildlife across 26,000 hectares of land between Hastings, Cape Kidnappers and south to Waimarama.

"The key to its success is a coordinated effort at scale with affordable technology that transforms how pest management takes place on farmland."

The Green Party was however sceptical about the new move.

"The Government must do a better job on this NPS than it has on the freshwater version, which allows rivers to stay dirty and polluters to keep polluting," its environment spokesperson Eugenie Sage said.

"The biodiversity policy statement needs to be worth more than the paper it's written on and contain some real substance.

"This announcement is another example of the Government making a headline statement at the same time as it trashes environmental protection measures in its RMA reforms."

- NZ Herald

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