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What is the National Policy Statement on Indigenous Biodiversity?

The proposed National Policy Statement on Indigenous Biodiversity (NPSIB) is a draft policy set by central government to guide councils on how to protect nature in their regions. Up until now, it’s been up to each council to decide how to do this. The results have been mixed at best, and often very poor -  for landowners, and for nature.

The Resource Management Act was passed in 1991, and has required since then that Significant Natural Areas (SNAs) are protected, regardless of whether they are on public or private land. That requirement hasn’t changed.

The problem is that many landowners and councils don't know which areas are significant, and even if they do, there's no legal clarity on what 'protection' means. This opens the door to long, expensive legal battles as each district decides what to protect, and how. Meanwhile, important native habitat is still being destroyed.

The proposed NPSIB will standardise the criteria and policies that apply to SNAs, ensuring equity, and reducing expensive consenting costs.

Read the draft National Policy Statement on Indigenous Biodiversity here.

What are Significant Natural Areas?

Significant Natural Areas are New Zealand’s most important remnants of native habitat – places where rare or threatened plants or animals are still found. Habitat loss is one of the main threats to New Zealand’s wildlife so it’s important that we look after the significant areas we have left, whether they’re on public or private land.

SNAs have usually been looked after by previous and existing landowners, either intentionally or unintentionally. That’s why they still exist. Many landowners recognise they have something special on their land that’s worth protecting. Without the thousands of landowners across the country who have done this, we would have very few important places left outside of conservation land.

Why do we need to identify SNAs on private land?

Land Care Research data shows that between 1996 and 2017, 84,000 ha native tussock, shrubland and forest was cleared across New Zealand. Most of this was on private land.

Today, 80 per cent of native birds, 88 per cent of lizards and 100 per cent of frogs are threatened with extinction. Despite the good work being done by many land owners, irreplaceable areas of nature are still being destroyed.

How will tangata whenua and mātauranga Māori be recognised?

The draft NPSIB recognises that Māori have a vital role as kaitiaki of their whenua and an abiding interest in the health of their environment. The Policy will ensure that all local councils appropriately recognise the particular relationship and knowledge that tangata whenua and Māori land owners have of their whenua and taonga.

Among other important provisions, the NPSIB specifies that ‘local authorities must, with the consent of tangata whenua and as far as practicable in accordance with tikanga Māori, take all reasonable steps to incorporate mātauranga Māori relating to indigenous biodiversity in implementing this National Policy Statement’. It also says ‘Local authorities must take all reasonable steps to provide opportunities for tangata whenua to exercise kaitiakitanga over indigenous biodiversity’.

What do SNAs mean for landowners?

It's important to note that existing practices in or near SNAs will generally be able to continue. Existing grazing, tourism, or honey production for example can carry on. But these activities won’t be able to intensify, and new activities won’t be allowed to negatively affect SNAs.

The sorts of activities that might harm an SNA are felling trees for subdivision, or clearing bush to convert into pasture.

What provisions are there for SNAs on Māori land?

There are special provisions for Māori land, as defined by Te Ture Whenua Act 1993, in the draft NPSIB. Māori land is comparatively less developed that other land tenure types, and therefore has relatively more area that could be classified as an SNA. The draft NPSIB provides exemptions for new activities on Māori land, while still allowing for the need to protect indigenous biodiversity.

Where new activities on most other tenure types will not be allowed to adversely affect an SNA, new activities within an SNA on Māori land can proceed according to the ‘effects management hierarchy’. This means that if the effects cannot be avoided, they must be remedied. If they can't be remedied they must be mitigated. If they can’t be mitigated, they must be offset. If none of these are possible, the activity may not be allowed.

Activities that this provision will apply to include things that will make a significant contribution to enhancing the social, cultural or economic wellbeing of tangata whenua, and to papakainga, marae and other community facilities associated with customary activities.

This provision will mean that new activities in an SNA on Māori land would need to be consented, whereas previously they might have been permitted activities.

Will land owners be required to do weed and pest control?

Unless it is required under a Regional Pest Management Strategy, the council cannot require land owners to do weed or pest control in an SNA.  However, landowners with SNAs may have greater opportunities for funding and support for weed and pest control to help protect the SNA, or assist with fencing where needed.

Why private land when we have so much public conservation land?

Even though we have some fantastic national parks and reserves, much of New Zealand’s conservation land is mountainous and rugged. Many important ecosystems are nearly entirely restricted to private land. For example, many lowland forests remnants are privately owned, and not on conservation land. They are precious homes for wildlife because we have already felled most of these areas for our towns, industries and farms.

Next steps?

The draft NPSIB was developed following a two year collaborative process involving Forest & Bird, Federated Farmers, the Conservation and Freshwater Iwi Leadership Group, the Forest Owners Association, the Environmental Defence Society, and a representative from the extractive/infrastructure industries.

The draft was then publicly consulted on, with 92% of submitters supporting the policy.

Minister Shaw, Associate Minister for the Environment, has indicated he will seek further submissions on an exposure draft in the coming months, before the NPSIB is approved by Cabinet and finally gazetted, at which point it becomes government policy.

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