A minerals prospecting permit granted over part of Northland’s Puketī Forest — one of New Zealand’s only surviving kauri forests — proves the need for the Government to make good on a pledge to end all mining on conservation land, an environmental group says.
Members of Forest & Bird and Whangaroa hapū gathered at Manginangina Scenic Reserve, west of Kerikeri, on Wednesday to highlight their demands for a ban on new mines.
The reserve, which forms part of Puketī Forest, is included in a prospecting permit for lithium and rare earth elements granted late last year to Mineralogy International, a company owned by Australian mining billionaire Clive Palmer.
In 2017, shortly after being elected, former Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern pledged to end all new mining on conservation land.
A bill to that effect is now in the hands of Northland MP Willow-Jean Prime, the new Conservation Minister, but it has been making slow progress through Parliament with no indication of when it might become law.
Bianca Ranson, a spokeswoman for Ngāti Kahu ki Whangaroa who took part in Wednesday’s protest, urged Prime to move swiftly, especially now she was a minister, to protect the whenua by ending new mining on conservation land.
Only 1 per cent of New Zealand’s original, unlogged kauri forest remained, she said.
The protest also targeted Whakarara Conservation Area, inland from Te Ngaere and north of Matauri Bay.
The reserve was upstream of a waterfall and a water source used by local hapū, but it was included in a separate prospecting licence held by Palmer’s company.
Ranson said allowing mining on “incredibly important” conservation land, such as Whakarara maunga, could destroy forests and pollute waterways leading to Whangaroa Harbour.
“We dodged a bullet being missed by the worst of Cyclone Gabrielle. But in a world where extreme weather events are becoming more common and more severe, we wouldn’t want toxic mining waste in an area close to the coast that’s famous for flooding,” she said.
“In Whangaroa it’s been an intergenerational fight to keep mining companies away. Our people have told the Government again and again we don’t want mining here, but they continue to allow more prospecting and exploration.”
Ranson said the permits covered a mix of private land, Māori land and public conservation land that was under Treaty claim.
“The Government is making another mess before cleaning up the first one,” she said.
Robyn Tauroa, of Whangaroa Papa Hapū said locals had been fighting mining plans for at least 30 years and weren’t planning to stop anytime soon.
“In this area we have underground streams all through our mountains and whenua that we don’t want polluted by mining companies,” she said.
Forest & Bird Northland conservation manager Dean Baigent-Mercer said more than 150,000ha of exploration and prospecting permits had been signed off, and at least 78 mining access arrangements granted, on conservation land since 2017.
“We need the Government to hurry up and fulfil their promise to end new mines on conservation land before the election. Local communities shouldn’t have to continually fight decade after decade to prevent mining company attempts to destroy ancient forests, wetlands and rivers that we thought were already protected.”
Originally a private member’s bill drafted by Green MP Eugenie Sage, the Crown Minerals (Prohibition of Mining) Amendment Bill was drawn from the members’ ballot last year.
Prime has been asked for comment.
It is understood the bill is opposed on the South Island’s West Coast, where much of the region is conservation land and mining remains an economic mainstay.
In particular, however, there are concerns a ban would erode Ngāi Tahu’s Treaty settlement rights to pounamu (greenstone). Those rights are also guaranteed by law.
Most pounamu is found on the West Coast as a byproduct of other mining operations.