“Nonsense on stilts” again – FMC to seek Ombudsman ruling
FMC is asking DOC to renege on an undertaking to the aviation industry to increase helicopter landings in Fiordland National Park before it is too late and is asking the Ombudsman to intervene.
FMC is deeply disturbed to discover the extent of closed-door discussions between DOC and the aviation industry which led to DOC recently overriding the statutory limits for aircraft landings in the Fiordland National Park Management Plan. It is the second major breach of a national park plan uncovered in three years, occurring after the Ombudsman, Professor Ron Paterson, described a similar DOC decision to override limits on Routeburn Track concessionaires, as “nonsense on stilts” in 2015.
FMC President Peter Wilson described the situation revealed through an Official Information Act request, as “revealing, disturbing, and casting doubt on DOC’s ability and willingness to regulate the tourism industry in accordance with management plans”.
Last year there were a number of closed-door workshops involving FlightSafety eLearning and conversations between the aviation industry and DOC, which led to DOC’s decision to ignore the current rules, and allow an eight fold increase in the number of helicopter landings on Mt Tutoko’s Ngapunatoru Ice Plateau. Mr Wilson stated, “One lucky operator has received a windfall of 2000 extra landings. DOC planning staff are revealed as enabling this through their “brilliance” at finding the loop-holes in the law. Loop-holes that in our opinion don’t exist”.
“They’ve tried to justify it on the basis of research, but that’s like the Japanese claiming that they undertake scientific whaling. They have also ignored a clear annual limit of allowable helicopter landings in the National Park. The process is compromised and the reasoning is farcical”.
“Across the country, the rapid growth of the tourism industry is putting immense pressure on the Department of Conservation’s limited resources”, Mr Wilson stated. “Where pressure occurs, it appears that DOC staff are only too willing to say yes, even if that means ignoring statutory plans”.
With rapid growth in tourism, and growing complaints about tourism pressure on public conservation land, Mr Wilson said that without a rethink, “tourism risked losing its social license to operate, and DOC risked losing the trust that the public places in it to protect conservation land”.
“The outdoor community can support and encourage a sustainable tourism industry, but not if it continues to pressure the Department of Conservation to flout the law”.
FMC wanted a public plan change process to consider the landing increases. “That would have been the fair and democratic way”, Mr Wilson said.
Mr Wilson says that DOC still have a chance to pull back and restore the integrity of their management processes, as final changes to the aircraft operators’ concessions haven’t been signed off yet. He urges DOC’s regional managers withhold their approval
Read FMC’s backgrounder on the issue: Mt Tutoko Landings – Background Paper June 2016