Proposed national policy statement on indigenous biodiversity
IntroductionSubmitted 2 May 2011: The NZCA supports the development of a national policy statement for indigenous biodiversity but considers the proposed draft does not achieve the stated purpose because it addresses only extremely rare and threatened indigenous biodiversity.
Submission date: 2 May 2011
Submitted to: Ministry for the Environment
The New Zealand Conservation Authority (NZCA) supports the development of a national policy statement for indigenous biodiversity but considers the Proposed National Policy Statement for Indigenous Biodiversity (PNPS) does not achieve the stated purpose because it addresses only extremely rare and threatened indigenous biodiversity.
The Proposed National Policy Statement for Indigenous Biodiversity has other weaknesses and ambiguities and could result in some possible unintentional consequences that would be very detrimental for New Zealand’s indigenous biodiversity.
Remedies sought by the NZCA
Broaden the scope of the criteria for significant habitat (per the New Zealand Coastal Policy Statement Policy 11); adopt a precautionary approach (per New Zealand Coastal Policy Statement Policy 3); prevent impacts on areas protected for their indigenous biodiversity (per New Zealand Coastal Policy Statement Policy 5); and to include freshwater habitats.
- Rewrite the objective to deliver on the purpose of halting the decline in indigenous biodiversity
- Draft provisions for monitoring progress towards the Objective
- Do not allow biodiversity offsetting for nationally or regionally rare habitats
- Do not include public conservation land and waters, as the PNPS (as currently written) would undermine the protection of their indigenous biodiversity
- Consider the effects of climate change on indigenous biodiversity
- Provide resources to enable smaller councils to increase their capacity specifically for indigenous biodiversity
- Make rates relief for protected areas a universal requirement
- Define “reasonable use of land”
- Explain ‘best practice’, ensure it is not undermined, but promoted to the greatest extent possible
- Amend pest management provisions of Biosecurity Act to give areas of significant indigenous biodiversity precedence in pest management strategies
- Ensure the ecological expertise of the Department of Conservation contributes to the PNPS process
- Instigate a board of inquiry process to progress work on developing the Proposed National Policy Statement for Indigenous Biodiversity
The need for a National Policy Statement for Biodiversity
Indigenous biodiversity habitats continue to be lost on private land and national direction is definitely necessary to require some local authorities to implement their indigenous biodiversity functions under the Resource Management Act (RMA).
Currently the approach of councils across the country is inconsistent, in many cases inadequate, or is only at the very early stages. The NZCA thinks that many councils will appreciate the guidance and mandate a national policy statement will give them.
Scope of the Proposed National Policy Statement on Indigenous Biodiversity
The Preamble states that the PNPS seeks to strengthen the contribution that the RMA makes to “halting the decline” of indigenous biodiversity. The NZCA considers that the objective and policies are inadequate for that purpose largely because of the narrow scope of the PNPS, which focuses on nationally rare and threatened biodiversity, and is silent on managing other areas of significant biodiversity. It therefore addresses only a small subset of land referred to in section 6 of the RMA which covers the protection of areas of significant vegetation and significant habitats of indigenous fauna. In this respect the PNPS is mis-named.
One of the stated objectives of the PNPS is to establish a “bottom-line” category designed to lift poor performance. This is conveyed as a positive measure. The NZCA draws attention to the other way of looking at this. That is that the narrow scope of the PNPS may have the effect of undermining broader protection of areas identified as significant in district plans.
Rare and threatened ecosystems are inherently small in nature and often isolated from larger protected areas. This impacts on their resilience and resistance to edge effects and invasion from plant and animal pests and diminishes their usefulness as hosts for indigenous species which require connectivity.
The NZCA would therefore like to see the PNPS expanded in scope
- to include other ecological criteria necessary to halt the decline in indigenous biodiversity.
- to cover indigenous biodiversity not covered by the New Zealand Coastal Policy Statement or the National Policy Statement for Freshwater (once approved)
- to include the characteristics covered in Policies 3, 5 and 11 of the New Zealand Coastal Policy Statement
- to recognise the value of ecosystem services, especially water and soil conservation, provided by areas of indigenous vegetation
so that the protection of indigenous biodiversity is comprehensive and connected.
Similarly, the effects of climate change (s 7(i) RMA) on indigenous biodiversity should be considered. There is no indication in the s 32 Report that this has been contemplated.
The objective of the Proposed National Policy Statement for Indigenous Biodiversity, as written, is not strong enough. “Halting the decline” should be stated in the Objective as the main purpose of the Proposed National Policy Statement for Indigenous Biodiversity. The NZCA believes there is compelling need to have full regard to indigenous biodiversity in the exercising of any functions under the Act.
The NZCA opposes biodiversity offsetting for nationally and regionally rare habitat types. They are already so limited in extent, fragmented and degraded, that offsetting is inappropriate. The NZCA believes such habitats should be protected in situ.
Public conservation land
Through attendance at public meetings, the NZCA expects that there may be submissions seeking the inclusion of public conservation land within the Proposed National Policy Statement for Indigenous Biodiversity. This seems to be based on an argument for equal treatment and ignores the fundamental point that indigenous biodiversity on public conservation land is already protected.
Notwithstanding this protection, the NZCA acknowledges that there are threats to public conservation land, primarily from development proposals processed under the RMA on or adjoining public conservation land, which can impact negatively on those protected ecosystems. The proposed changes to align and streamline the RMA and conservation concessions processes have heightened this threat.
While inclusion of public conservation land could, in theory, therefore be beneficial for indigenous biodiversity on public conservation land, it could also undermine it by imbedding the avoid/remedy/mitigate/offset approach that considers public conservation land to be no different from any other land.
The NZCA has observed that applicants wishing to undertake significant projects or developments on public conservation land have attempted to use the dual RMA consent/conservation concession application process to advantage by obtaining a consent first and using this as leverage for acquiring a Conservation Act concession.
The NZCA requests that a thorough consideration of the advantages and risks of including public conservation land be made before deciding on its inclusion, and that appropriate safeguards (such as those in Policy 5 of the New Zealand Coastal Policy Statement), and the rationale for doing so, be clearly set out in the PNPS if such a decision is made.
Freshwater biodiversity, a high priority under the New Zealand Biodiversity Strategy, is very poorly managed.
The NZCA believes formal identification in regional and district plans of rivers and other water bodies significant for indigenous biodiversity, together with relevant management guidance, would be a major step forward.
Because of flaws in the PNPS, its mismatch with other policy (especially the NZCPS), and its potential impact on councils and affected landowners, the NZCA urges that a Board of Inquiry process be reconsidered. This would provide a more thorough, transparent process.
Boards of Inquiry on the New Zealand Coastal Policy Statement and National Policy Statement for Freshwater have demonstrated the value that can be achieved from a group of independent eminent and qualified persons examining national policy areas that are to be applied across government administrations.
We also urge you to seek and apply the ecological expertise of the Department of Conservation throughout the PNPS development process.
The following additional points are requested for consideration:
Some of the smaller councils lack the capacity and resources to implement the changes that will be required by a national policy statement on indigenous biodiversity, and will need assistance. The NZCA also warns that pre-emptive destruction of habitats might occur in advance of implementation of a national policy statement, in districts that currently lack any controls.
Monitoring/Review/Land Cover database
The Land Cover database provides a ‘snapshot’, and updating the database may assist with monitoring progress towards protection of indigenous biodiversity on all tenures of land.
A nationally consistent approach to monitoring the implementation of a national policy on indigenous biodiversity is essential, and responsibilities for this, as well as review periods should be specified.
Habitats of threatened and at risk species
Complete knowledge of threatened species is unlikely to ever be achieved, however this does not justify this criterion being non-mandatory in regional and district planning documents. Information which is available should be applied, and any decision-making under the Resource Management Act should include all available information, including that which has come to hand since the plans were notified, or indeed, any time after this PNPS becomes operative.
To maintain goodwill, it is important to offer some compensation for landowners being required to protect areas of significant indigenous biodiversity on their land. Rates relief, though the monetary amount is usually quite small, is appreciated by landowners.
Lack of research/understanding of biodiversity offsetting
Biodiversity offsetting is an area of research which is in its infancy overseas, and certainly in New Zealand. The NZCA believes the concept is highly risky for rare habitat types and, as already stated, should not be applied to these at all.
Definition for “reasonable use of land”
This phrase is used in the Objective, and is open to interpretation, and is currently interpreted differently in various regional and district plans.
The document assumes that there is a shared understanding of what constitutes “best practice”. It may be wise to either include a definition, or set out what the Ministry regards as best practice, in the Preamble.
Best practice by local authorities should also be supported and promoted to help other councils lift their performance. It is important to acknowledge the positive contribution already being made by landowners and kaitiaki.
Integration with Biosecurity Act
A review of the pest management provisions of the Biosecurity Act is underway, providing the opportunity to achieve better integration between the Resource Management and Biosecurity Acts. Areas that are identified as significant for biodiversity should then be given priority when national or regional pest management strategies are being prepared.
About the submitter
The New Zealand Conservation Authority is a statutory body established under section 6A of the Conservation Act 1987. It has the power to advocate its interests in policy and planning development processes.
Before preparing this submission on the Proposed National Policy Statement on Indigenous Biodiversity, members attended several of the regional public meetings and it was discussed at length at the recent (April 2011) meeting of the Authority.