Federated Mountain Clubs President Robin McNeill today wrote to the Minister of Conservation and the Conservation spokespeople of all political parties expressing deep concerns about the West Coast Windblown Timber (Conservation Lands) Bill.
While the Bill seems to be a pragmatic solution to a rare occurrence and does include some useful controls for the Department of Conservation to ensure that environmental concerns are largely addressed, it overlooks the wider context and historical understandings. The problems with the bill are thus serious and can be summarised:
- The Director General of Conservation told us at our recent AGM that weather events similar to Cyclone Ita will become more common through climate change. Indeed, he told us that the expected increase in frequency of such events would challenge DOC’s ability to maintain backcountry tracks in the future. In short, the Cyclone Ita weather event is a precursor to more such events and is not unique. In this light, a long term, strategic approach to dealing with wind-throw is more appropriate than one-off legislative intervention as presented by this bill.
- If enacted, the bill will raise expectations with saw-millers that more timber will be made available whenever further weather events occur. The chief difficulty thus arising from the bill is that once a line in the sand is redrawn, which is the effect of this bill, the precedent and expectation exits to redraw it again.
- There is a long term understanding and social contract that was agreed to 27 years ago between saw-millers, West Coasters, back country recreationalists and environmentalists regarding the milling of native timber that is being ignored. It should be remembered that as part of that social contract, West Coaters were financially compensated at that time.
- We fail to understand how this bill could work in practice without overriding the existing West Coast Conservation Management Strategy. Federated Mountain Clubs is a staunch supporter of conservation management strategies, because they are the results of rigorous, democratic public consultation processes, and we do not tolerate any action that diminishes them.
Federated Mountain Clubs are a strong supporter of pragmatic, well thought out decision making. However given the reasoning above we are seeking that the Bill be withdrawn, or if that is not possible, that the Bill not be debated under urgency, so that the very much wider policy issues that this bill raises can be heard in Select Committee.