NZ Green Party
Think our native forests were safe? Think again.

Agricultural intensification over the past 10 years has led to the highest rate of native vegetation loss since European colonisation.

Lake Taupo farm and forest

Lake Taupo farm and forest

So says the 2009 annual report of Landcare Research, a Crown Research Institute, in an article about ‘Post-capitalism conservation’.

Landcare argues that the market is disconnected from natural capital, a problem that has contributed to the current economic crisis. Land biodiversity in New Zealand is a good example: where natural vegetation has been cleared away for intensive farming. This results in:

increased risk to the ongoing supply of essential goods and services (such as clean water) provided by biodiversity, as well as its intrinsic aesthetic and intellectual value.

They say that the fragmentation of native forests and streamside vegetation also make us more vulnerable to invasive species and impacts of climate change, and reduce resilience on the remainder of native biodiversity such that it further fragments.

I was staggered at the fact that the last decade has seen the fastest decline in native vegetation since colonisation. I knew we were still losing more native cover than we were gaining, but the ‘worst decade’ status is quite extraordinary. It’s certainly more evidence that the Labour government’s environmental rhetoric was just that, rhetoric.

The key instrument to arrest this decline would be a National Policy Statement on Biodiversity to give some guidance for the Resource Management Act. There’s no doubt it’s a difficult policy to write, because to work it would have to restrict landowners’ clearance of native vegetation, and incentivise regeneration and replanting. Given this decade’s performance has been so bad, current voluntary schemes like covenants, guidelines and accords are not sufficient. It is New Zealand Inc. that will pay the cost, including private landowners, with degraded waterways and more pest and weed problems. The Greens finally convinced Labour to commit to the NPS on biodiversity as part of ETS negotiations (pine forests in the wrong place can be another threat to biodiversity), after Labour’s earlier false start in 2000. National committed to one before the election:  “National is committed to developing a NPS under the RMA on biodiversity. It is likely the 2011 deadline will be met”. This then slipped to unlikely, but now seem interested again. Whether the two old parties have more than a Clayton’s interest will be seen in time.

Meanwhile, Landcare’s work is aimed at assessing and valuing the public values of biodiversity, including the idea of biodiversity offsetting. The Greens can see some benefit in biodiversity offsetting, but plenty of dangers too.

Mokihinui Gorge from the air by Craig Potton

Mokihinui Gorge from the air

Take Meridian’s proposed land-swap to allow them to dam the Mokihinui River. Their proposal is to swap the 330ha of forest and river they want to inundated in the Mokihinui Gorge with 794ha of coastal forest land they have bought. This would then mean the gorge was effectively private land, and no longer conservation land, so no concession would be required from DOC to dam it. That’s a net gain of 450ha of native forest, right?

Wrong. The first problem is that currently there are 1030ha of native forest at the two sites. Doing the swap and damming the gorge will result in 800ha left – a net loss of 330ha. While the protection status of the coast forest would be higher, it is forest now and will still be forest after so little is gained. Fundamentally, neither area of forest should be cut down .

The second problem is that the nature of the two sites is very different. Damming the Mokihinui would result in one fewer wild river, obstruct a very health habitat of the already-declining long-finned eel and whio (blue duck), and destroy a unique landscape with its own intrinsic values.

DOC and the Minister of Conservation are currently considering Meridian’s proposed land-swap, so please write to Tim Groser to urge him to turn it down.

Frog will look deeper at biodiversity offsetting in future, but finally, Landcare’s article also notes the importance to pest control to ensure we don’t just have forests, but have healthy forests. The Green MPs write about the same in the latest issue of GreenTimes, which you can read here [PDF 800kb].

18 thoughts on “Think our native forests were safe? Think again.

  1. ‘Agricultural intensification over the past 10 years has led to the highest rate of native vegetation loss since European colonisation.’

    Frog, I’m staggered too.

    Soooo…the rapid expansion of intensive dairy farming is resulting in dirty rivers, decline in native fish species, cases of animal cruelty, more methane, and vegetation & biodiversity loss.

    Where the hell is the government leadership on this?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 2 (+7)

  2. I was driving through the Grey valley last summer and it was like driving back in time, thick smoke right across to the Paparoas with columns rising everywhere from burning vegetation.
    You may blame Dairy but really it is due to a “clear it now or never” attitude from the landowners because of the impending carbon trading and forestry fiasco. Political environmentalism doesn’t work Labour has tree blood on its hands.
    For crying out loud think before you make these direction changes, the trees can’t vote.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1 (+2)

  3. wetagirl wrote:

    “Soooo…the rapid expansion of intensive dairy farming is resulting in dirty rivers, decline in native fish species, cases of animal cruelty, more methane, and vegetation & biodiversity loss.”

    To quote Monty Python’s Life of Brian, ‘blessed are the cheesemakers, they shall inherit the earth’

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 2 (0)

  4. Shunda, its you who need to think. People will always game whatever system there is and you cannot remove politics from global problem solving. That doesn’t absolve us from having to choose a way forward. You’ve made it abundantly clear you don’t want a price on carbon, but never offer an alternative except for doing nothing. That’s not good enough.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 3 (+1)

  5. I have been fighting a losing battle with councils on the West Coast for a number of years now over their pro-development attitude at the expense of indigenous biodiversity. Problem is, when this biodiversity exists on private land the landowners believe they have a right to do what they want with it; and the way our system is set up that is true to a certain extent.
    Theoretically the RMA protects such tracts of land but the practice falls dismally short of proper protection. firstly consents issued do not fully acknowledge (sometimes not at all, especially in the case of wetlands; it appears the planning department of the Buller District Council is not aware that any wetlands exist (or, mostly now, did) in the district)the value of the indigenous remnants; but just as remiss, when consent conditions are set policing of compliance is not undertaken, therefore farmers know that if they get consent for what they intend to do (when they even bother), at their own standard, they know they can do just that, develop to THEIR own standard, not to what is written in the consents.
    It is the out-of-the-way places on the coast that are being hit the hardest with biodiversity loss. council does not follow up on any complaints of biodestruction without consents. As an individual i am now moving further along where litigation may be necessary – if anyone can help please contact me at frida@paradise.net.nz Biodiversity loss in the Buller and on the coast is dire, and so few seem to care.
    Frida.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 1 (+11)

  6. Did they take into account the huge amount of native tree planting on private land in the form of gardens and small farms etc or have they only looked at losses.
    You have to be suspicious of the bona fides of a report that refers to “intrinsic aesthetic and intellectual value.”

    After all the word intrinsic means “independent of human value”. Such as the intrinsic quality of a square is its four sidedness. How can there be such a thing as intrinsic aesthetic value and intrinsic intellectual value”?
    Or are we now to believe the Earth Mother has some sense of aesthetics and is an intellectual in her own right?

    I notice too they cannot even spell capitalism.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 9 (-8)

  7. “You’ve made it abundantly clear you don’t want a price on carbon, but never offer an alternative except for doing nothing. That’s not good enough.”

    That’s rubbish Valis I have repeatedly said there is a need to focus on sustainability issues at a grass roots level rather than the AGW global warming magic fairy approach.
    We could massively reduce our own CO2 footprint by simply letting wilding conifers grow, but the Greens won’t look at that for ideological reasons.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 5 (-4)

  8. That’s rubbish Valis I have repeatedly said there is a need to focus on sustainability issues at a grass roots level rather than the AGW global warming magic fairy approach.

    Grass roots complementary measures (and others like efficiency standards) are essential, but not an alternative to pricing carbon as they are not sufficient on their own to address the magnitude of the problem we face globally. Not to mention that there’s nothing better for growing trees than a price on carbon.

    We could massively reduce our own CO2 footprint by simply letting wilding conifers grow, but the Greens won’t look at that for ideological reasons.

    How do you know that? So far as I know it is being looked at and there are problems with it. Will try to get that info. But again, it could only ever be part of the solution anyway.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0 (+5)

  9. Have you guys seen the article in The Press on the withdrawl of Monsanto’s LY038 GE corn from commercial development in Europe?

    http://www.stuff.co.nz/the-press/news/3020216/Europe-balks-at-GE-corn-in-NZ

    According to the article it was withdrawn after Monsanto was asked to provide further evidence of its safety. FSANZ maintains “there are no safety issues and it was withdrawn for commercial reasons”. Surely this means that our standards aren’t as high as Europe’s? Either that or FSANZ are just too pig-headed to revisit their own decisions.

    What do you reckon? Bloody outrageous I think and a good opportunity for the Greens to have another crack at FSANZ.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 0 (+9)

  10. A relative of mine recently went up South Taranaki to look at land-blocks for purchase in the back country bush. Prime bush, withpatches where big trees had been pulled out and milled. He asked one of the sellers and the guy said they were pulling them out ‘while they still could’. Good on those stewards of biodiversity, the NZ farmers!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0 (+4)

  11. Dear Mr Groser,

    I write as a concerned individual and New Zealand citizen in regard to the destructive proposal to dam the Mokihinui River. I have written about this over a year ago on my internet blog. The Mokihinui Dam Project

    I do not support this proposal. It is wrong to continue to treat our wild and irreplaceable resources in this way. We first need to consider why our demand for power continues to grow, to use the power we already produce far more efficiently, and to reduce immigration to sustainable levels to help reduce such increasing demands. As part of this scheme, you are also considering a proposal for a “land swap” of other forest to be brought in to protection. This makes no sense. We will still end up with much less forest than we have already, and a pristine wild river damaged beyond repair.

    This land swap is a con, you should have no part of it. This whole proposal is a con, and as a nation we should have no part of it. It seems to me that New Zealand’s professed concern for the environment and its pride in our “clean, green” image is misplaced; we continue to treat our environment not as a treasure to be preserved and allowed to linger as we found it , but as a resource merely to be abused for our unsustainable submission to the destructive dogma of growth. Let’s stop growing for a while, let’s just make better what we already have.

    There’s only one other natural system that I know of that mimics so accurately this pathological process, and that’s the behaviour of a cancer.

    Yours faithfully,

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0 (+7)

  12. The farming lobby continue with the bleat…’But we are planting natives like crazy’.

    Doesn’t look like it. Unless dragged kicking and screaming into some sort of environmental responsibility, they will trash all in their path.

    You have to ask – what would be the current state of NZ’s rivers and streams without the dirty dairying campaign?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0 (+6)

  13. Checking in fom Canada here – I’ve watched our forests get completely destroyed in the name of business and profits. If NZ doesn’t aknowledge the importance of ALL their tree’s and forests, I fear NZ will eventually end up like Canada… Over logged.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0 (0)

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