Forest & Bird is calling out the Government for backtracking on crucial freshwater reforms and has written a letter to Environment Minister David Parker vowing to fight the changes.
The proposal to allow mining, quarrying, landfills, and urban development to destroy wetlands was quietly released as a consultation called Managing our wetlands by the Ministry for the Environment in early September.
“This proposal makes a mockery of attempts made to address the loss of wetlands and the degraded state of freshwater in New Zealand. We will fight this all the way,” says Forest & Bird Chief Executive Kevin Hague.
“It’s particularly outrageous that in a climate emergency we’re having to even discuss a special pathway allowing coal mining to further destroy wetlands,” says Forest & Bird Chief Executive Kevin Hague.
“Allowing further destruction of wetlands is also directly contrary to the Climate Change Commission's advice.
“Wetlands are critically important – at storing carbon, reducing flood flows, and providing habitat for native species.”
Over 90% of wetlands in Aotearoa have been destroyed, with more continuing to be lost through poor compliance and bad resource management decisions.
“The new rules, which we only gained a year ago, are absolutely crucial in turning around the loss of wetlands in Aotearoa,” says Mr Hague.
Except in limited circumstances, the National Environment Standard on Freshwater Management made earthworks within or near a natural wetland a prohibited activity if those works are likely to drain the wetland.
But the new consultation, which closes on 27 October, proposes ‘additional consenting pathways’ for a range of industries giving them the ability to destroy wetlands.
“We’re very aware of how much lobbying must have gone on, and what this means for the industries such as coal mining,” says Mr Hague.
The proposal has far-reaching implications for wetlands right across New Zealand. It could enable dumps to destroy wetlands, urban development to drain our waterways, and hundreds of quarries around the country to bulldoze through fragile native ecosystems.
In addition to pathways for industry, the changes further dilute the definition of a natural wetland leaving a path open for drainage, agricultural conversion, and heavy grazing. Some internationally-significant ephemeral wetlands that support large numbers of waterbirds would not be defined as natural wetlands at all.
“There are incredible wetlands across the Buller Plateau, home to a range of wondrous native species, many of which are threatened, like the roroa/great spotted kiwi and the North Westland snow tussock.
“Removing freshwater protection could allow coal companies to carry out widespread destruction of these ecosystems, as well was locking the world into a high greenhouse gas emissions.”
“If you have a special wetland near you, you need to be aware that this new proposal could allow it to be destroyed by agricultural conversions, a rubbish dump, housing development, quarry, or mine. This is the wrong path for New Zealand to take.
“We need to protect our few remaining wetlands, restore wetlands in critical areas, and re-wet the peatlands – wetlands are critical to having a climate-safe future where we protect nature, and nature helps protect us,” says Mr Hague.