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By Lois Williams, Local democracy reporter
Westland Mayor Bruce Smith has blasted conservationists lamenting the loss of wetlands on the West Coast.
And in the four years to 2018 the region lost 153ha of wetland - mostly drained for farming.
Mr Smith said the conservation group continued to allege that hard-working Coasters were the enemy of the environment. But the area involved was miniscule, he said
"The West Coast covers 2.3 million hectares of land, and 1.9 million hectares of that is controlled by the Department of Conservation.
"The 153ha mentioned is 0.000066% of the total Coast land area. Are they serious?"
The process now under way of identifying and protecting Significant Natural Areas (SNAs) was deemed to be in the public interest but was straightforward theft of private property, Mr Smith said.
"There's no compensation and the landowner is left to pay the rates and do the fencing and meet his mortgage.
"As iwi put it, it's the biggest land grab on South Islanders since the colonial purchases. Regional New Zealand will not sit by and watch the land being stolen."
The Greymouth Star has asked the Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage if the government agrees the West Coast may be a special case when it comes to SNAs, given the amount of land already protected in the Conservation estate (most recent estimates suggest 87%).
The paper has also asked the Minister if the Government is giving any consideration to landowners who would lose potential use of their land, and their existing property rights, if it is identified as SNA.
SNAs are defined as areas generally over 0.5 a of significant indigenous vegetation and significant habitat of indigenous fauna.
An estimated 15% of private land on the Coast could potentially fall into that category.
The West Coast Regional Council has said landowners would not automatically be refused consent to develop a SNA but their plans would be have to be assessed against set criteria, along with any mitigation measures.
Local Democracy Reporting is a public interest news service supported by RNZ, the Newspaper Publishers' Association and NZ On Air.