The Environment Commissioner wants the Government to make
clear the status of land considered ''precious'' by New
Zealanders but which has only a low level of protection from
The Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment Jan Wright
has recently released a report on stewardship land - a
category that covers a third of the conservation estate.
The Government needed to sort out the management and
administration of stewardship land and make the changes
needed to protect ''precious areas'' that fall under the
category but which need greater protection, she said.
''I am particularly concerned about the process that allows
for stewardship land to be swapped for private land. It is
not up to dealing with complex decisions based on the concept
of net conservation benefit.
''In line with this, I have recommended that new policy be
developed, based on clear principles and transparent process.
I have also recommended that areas of stewardship land that
warrant higher protection be identified and protected through
''I have no doubt we will see more commercial use of the
conservation estate in the future, and it is vital that these
issues around stewardship land be resolved to provide greater
certainty for both conservation and business.''
Dr Wright said there were two case studies which showed the
difficulties which could arise from a failure to confront the
The first was Meridian Energy's application to build a
hydro-electricity dam on the Mokihinui River on the West
Coast - an application since withdrawn.
The second was the acquisition of Crystal Basin for the
expansion of a skifield.
Dr Wright said in both cases the land was considered to have
high conservation value, but was deemed stewardship land.
Consequently, commercial operators were able to propose land
Both cases attracted a great deal of controversy and
highlighted that there was work to be done before the public
would have confidence in such deals, she said.
In the Mokihinui case, the conservation value of the river
itself could not feature in the assessment of net
conservation benefit because the riverbed was not
administered by the Department of Conservation but was under
Land Information New Zealand jurisdiction''This alone made
the assessment meaningless,'' Dr Wright said.
''In the Crystal Basin case, the forested Banks Peninsula
gully that was swapped for this alpine basin was already
protected under the district plan.
''But under the law as it stands, land swaps need only lead
to a net conservation benefit for the conservation estate.
''That this coastal lowland forest was already protected was
''Over the years, concern about stewardship land has been
expressed from time to time, notably by the New Zealand
''Since more commercial enterprises look likely to take place
on the conservation estate, getting ahead of the game by
resolving these issues could potentially save both heated
arguments and wasted resources,'' Dr Wright said.