Forgotten Lands

In 2014 FMC launched a “Forgotten Lands” campaign in response to the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment’s report “Investigating the future of conservation: the case of Stewardship land. The campaign was designed to amplify the issue, change peoples perception of this land classification and push for eventual reclassification of areas of stewardship land, particularly those with high natural and recreational values.

When the Department of Conservation was established in 1987, more than 10% of New Zealand, much of it with high conservation value, was placed into the temporary classification of stewardship land, parcels of land now typically known as Conservation Areas, which lack the level of protection and active management afforded to other areas managed under the Conservation Act 1987 or the National Parks Act 1980.  Stewardship land is vulnerable to prospective developers particularly through the mechanism of “land swaps”, where conservation areas are traded for private land if a net benefit is perceived, a vulnerability that gained notoriety through the swapping of nature heritage fund purchased land on the Craigeburn range with bush on Banks Peninsula and a proposed swap of forest land near Seddonville to enable the construction of a hydroelectric dam

FMC joined a broad spectrum of voices emphasising that these areas were not low value, they had simply not being assessed, and that their assessment and reclassification should be a priority. In particular FMC proposed formal incorporation of eight outstanding natural areas into conservation parks, recreation parks, or national parks:

Where we are at now (May 2017)

The biggest success of the Forgotten Lands campaign and the complementary endeavours of the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment and Forest and Bird to date, has been the change in the public’s understanding on the status of stewardship land. It is now widely understood that stewardship land is not “low value” conservation land. While a few development proposals, such as the hydroelectric scheme on the Waitaha, are attempting to premeditate a thorough assessment of the land, at a landscape scale for conservation purposes, there is an awareness that such processes will be subject to public opposition.

There is also notable wariness of ‘land swaps’, though one controversial issue has emerged with the proposed Ruataniwha Dam project where an area of Ruahine Forest Park is proposed to have its status changed to stewardship land in order for it to be swapped with a privately held  area of regenerating native bush of arguably more conservation value. After the secure protected tenure of the Forest Park was affirmed in the Court of Appeal the case was appealed to, and is being considered by, the Supreme Court.

There has been much discussion within DOC and on Conservation Boards about the best way of prioritising reclassification. Many  North Island stewardship lands are still subject to Treaty of Waitangi Claims and can’t be progressed at this time. DOC have identified three large areas and fifteen smaller areas to progress based on conservation values, compliance with existing statutory planning, avoidance on conflict with mining interests and economies of scale. The three large areas are the St James, Mokihinui and Te Wahi Pounamu, which were all within FMC’s Forgotten Lands Campaign and together comprise close to 700,000 hectares, or 27.5% of New Zealand’s stewardship land. DOC, in consultation with Conservation Boards, is preparing a 5 year Stewardship Reclassification Plan to guide future work.

Where to from here

FMC expects this to be a long campaign, we know from decades long commitments to National Parks, Wilderness Areas, Conservation Parks and Tenure Review processes, that the statutory wheels turn slowly. It is though encouraging to see concrete action already taking place.

At a general level FMC will continue to celebrate the conservation and recreation values of stewardship lands, ensure that the expectation of reclassification is enshrined in Conservation Management strategies and that land thoroughly assessed through tenure review is given a proper classification as that process is completed. We will also advocate for DOC’s statutory planning team to be resourced to allow them to undertake increased reclassification activity and advocate against inappropriate land swaps.

At a specific level FMC is considering targeted campaigns to ensure stewardship areas at risk, or of high conservation value, are reclassified as a priority.

What you can do?

Understand the stewardship lands problem and explain it to others. Cherish your connection with your local stewardship lands and visit them regularly with your friends and family. Submit to statutory processes affecting stewardship lands. Support FMC and organisations that share our values.