by Eugenie Sage
At its July meeting the West Coast Conservation Board decided unanimously to request the New Zealand Conservation Authority to use its powers under section 8 of the National Parks Act to investigate adding the Mokihinui River catchment to Kahurangi National Park.
I have written to Conservation Minister Kate Wilkinson and asked her to request the Authority to undertake the national park investigation. With Meridian’s withdrawal of its poorly conceived dam proposal it is timely to review the protected status of the Mokihinui catchment and provide secure protection for the area,
In 2004 the Department of Conservation assessed 4706 river catchments around New Zealand to identify waters of national importance for biodiversity conservation. The Mokihinui had the seventh highest value for natural heritage of all the 4706 rivers assessed. National park status would properly recognise those values and help ensure that the river was secure from poorly conceived hydro projects.
The investigation should include not just including conservation land in the Mokihinui catchment, but nearby conservation land such as the setting for the Lyall –Mokihinui walkway and mountainbike track, and Crown riverbed currently administered by Land Information New Zealand. The mass of expert evidence which the Department prepared for the Environment Court hearing on the biodiversity, landscape and other values of the Mokihinui, much of the groundwork for a section 8 investigation has already been done. It clearly establishes the area’s outstanding values.
DoC’s advocacy on the Mokihinui case was superb and its evidence makes fascinating reading. It shows the high calibre of DoC’s technical experts and consultants. While this information helped save the Mokihinui by showing Meridian that it was likely to lose in the Environment Court, the tragedy is that DoC’s winding back of its RMA advocacy means that evidence of this calibre is put in front of Council decision makers less and less often.
In Canterbury, Trustpower’s proposed changes to the Rakaia Water Conservation order will change the river’s flow regime. Longer periods at minimum flow potentially affects its habitat values for braided river birds. The WCO recognises the river’s nationally outstanding values for birds such as the wrybill and black fronted tern. Yet unlike the Mokihinui, DoC has not even made a submission on the changes to the WCO.
DoC needs more funds and a Minister than recognises the importance of its responsibility under the Conservation Act to advocate for nature beyond the conservation estate. The Mokihinui shows how vital that role is.