The Far North District Council (FNDC) has extended the deadline for feedback on the implementation of the Significant Natural Areas (SNA) policy as a part of its Proposed District Plan until June 11.
"There are a lot of people who aren't happy about it … People feel blindsided. The whole thing has come out of the blue," said Federated Farmers Far North branch chairman Dave Wilson.
"I think it's highly likely that central government will bring in more stricter rules around what you can and can't do."
Concerned landowners from around the Far North have mobilised in response to a push from the Government and Northland Regional Council (NRC) to map out and identify SNA throughout the region. A total of 282,696 hectares, or about 42 per cent of the land in the Far North district, has been identified as an SNA through a mapping project that began in 2016.
"It's whenua Māori that I'm most concerned about. It's whenua Māori that's the least developed. When we get around to doing something with the land, we'll have to get resource consent just to put a shovel in the ground," said co-chair of Whangaroa Ngaiotonga Trust Hūhana Lyndon (Ngāti Hine, Ngātiwai, Ngāti Whātua, Ngāpuhi).
"That data collected by Wildlands Consultants is our data, so give it back. It shouldn't be used as a weapon against us."
According to the FNDC, 1073 survey responses had so far been received, following 8000 letters being sent to landowners with SNA on their properties. They also said that around 250 submissions relating to SNA had also been received, with more arriving daily.
"That is not the end of the process. We are continuing discussions with landowner and iwi groups so that we can learn more about the biodiversity values and how the making of the new District Plan can help protect these species and habitats with provisions that are clear and responsive and can help maintain ongoing land uses. Anyone can make a submission on the Proposed District Plan (which includes SNA) when it is publicly notified later this year," said the FNDC in an exclusive release to the Advocate.
Although the FNDC is receiving most of the criticism for implementing the policy, the FNDC says it is simply following guidance from the Government and NRC to implement the policy. Policies on maintaining and enhancing indigenous ecosystems and species were included in the 2016 Northland Regional Council Regional Policy Statement, in response to the Draft National Policy Statement on Indigenous Biodiversity (NPSIB) by the Ministry for the Environment.
"This included a direction to identify, using specified criterion, Significant Natural Areas and to place these maps in district plans and to apply the Regional Policy Statement policies," the FNDC said in the statement.
Alongside collective mobilisation of landowners throughout the regions, individual efforts are also being made in opposition of the policy. One such individual is Rueben Taipari Porter (Ngāpuhi, Te Rarawa, Ngāti Kahu, and Tuhoe), who has been protesting outside the FNDC buildings in Kaitaia.
"For generations, we've been ridiculed as bad landowners, told we're lazy, told we can't grow anything except marijuana. Now the land we've been taking care of, they've decided to take over responsibility for it," said Taipari Porter.
According to the FNDC, around half of the land identified as an SNA is Māori land. However, both Lyndon and Taipari Porter say that much of the remaining SNA land is currently controlled by the Department of Conservation, much of which is made up of "stolen Māori land".
"The 140,000 hectares they're saying is general title land is actually DoC land, which is confiscated Māori land," said Taipari Porter.