Forest & Bird has written to Environment Minister Nick Smith and Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy to advise that the organisation’s Board has decided to withdraw from the Land and Water Forum.
The move follows the Government’s proposed freshwater standards, released last month, which largely ignore the consensus recommendations of the Forum.
“The latest proposals from the Government really are an attempt to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory,” says Mark Hanger, Forest & Bird’s President.
“The Forum provided the Government with consensus recommendations that had buy-in from all the relevant stakeholders, incorporating the best scientific advice, yet they’ve come up with something very different.”
“In putting the Forum’s recommendations to one side, the Government has undermined the good faith and trust that we put in the Forum to help address the freshwater crisis facing all New Zealanders.”
Forest & Bird has been involved in the inner circle of the Land and Water Forum since its inception, over a period of nine years. The organisation has previously considered its membership of the Forum, in response to the Government’s selective ‘cherry-picking’ of Forum advice.
In the Forum’s latest phase of work, the Government sought specific advice on human health aspects of freshwater (swimmability) as well as the Macroinvertebrate Community Index (MCI), nitrogen, and phosphorous - all indicators of ecological health. The Forum delivered their consensus recommendations in August 2016.
Forest & Bird is primarily concerned about ecological health, yet swimmability has become established in public discourse as a useful proxy for overall freshwater health.
“We were deeply disappointed by the Government’s response to the Forum’s recommendations. Not only are they shifting the goalposts in relation to swimmability by doubling the acceptable level of E.coli, but now we find that they are also excluding smaller rivers and streams,” says Mr Hanger.
Last week Forest & Bird released maps which show that, despite the Government’s claim that 90% of New Zealand’s rivers would reach a swimmable standard by 2040, the majority of the country smaller rivers and streams are excluded from the proposed standards.
It is also clear that that the majority of Forum’s consensus recommendations to provide for ecological health have been ignored by the Government.
“To continue our involvement with the Land and Water Forum would give the impression that we consider the Government’s latest freshwater proposals satisfactory. We do not,” says Mr Hanger.
“We have considerable goodwill towards the intent of the collaborative governance process, and towards fellow Forum members who we have worked alongside over the last nine years.”
“But good faith from the Government is an essential component that is required for this process to work, and without that we are left with no choice but to withdraw.”
Established in 2009, the Land and Water Forum brings together stakeholders from industry groups, iwi, environmental and recreational NGOs, electricity generators and scientists, to develop a common direction for freshwater management in New Zealand and provide advice to the Government. The approach follows a Scandinavian-style collaborative governance process.
Forest & Bird’s Advocacy Manager Kevin Hackwell has represented Forest & Bird on the Forum’s Small Group, consisting of around 25 members, and is also one of the three trustees of the Land and Water Forum Trust.