West Coast needs a bold and smart vision

Forest & Bird is calling for a bolder vision for the West Coast in response to new plans to smooth the way for more of the same ‘boom and bust’ industries.

Today Ministers of Conservation, Economic Development, and Tourism launched the Tai Poutini West Coast Economic Development Action Plan.

"We congratulate the West Coast for coming up with a comprehensive regional development plan, and there’s certainly some good ideas in there," says Forest & Bird’s Canterbury West Coast Regional Manager Jen Miller.

"However, we’re alarmed to see the plan contains a ‘fast track’ process for mining, ongoing logging access to conservation forests, and plans to dispose of some conservation land."

"These proposals are a continuation of this Government’s short sighted focus on resource extraction, and bending the rules for favoured industries," says Ms Miller.

"We are particularly frustrated to see favourable treatment for mining, with the creation of a ‘single window’ regulatory process for all approvals and consents." A single window approach would see mining companies submit all necessary applications together.

"When it comes to mining on the West Coast, we have seen multiple instances of the Department of Conservation being hobbled in its advocacy role. A coordinated regulatory process will likely result in the complete loss of that advocacy voice."

"Coal mining in areas of high conservation value such as the Buller Plateau has drastic and irreversible impacts, and expert ecologists have said additional mining is likely to lead to species extinctions," says Ms Miller.

"The Department of Conservation (DOC) needs to be able to make independent decisions based on the best evidence, not be captured by development focused agencies."

The Government also plans to extend access to conservation forests for the harvest of windblown trees by making permanent the West Coast Windblown Timber (Conservation Lands) Act, which enabled temporary logging of windblown native forest trees following Cyclone Ita.

"This approach completely ignores the fact that rotting timber is a vital component of the forest ecosystem. Wind-thrown trees must be allowed to decompose and recycle their nutrients back into the environment, for the benefit of our native wildlife, and the forest itself."

Forest & Bird is also concerned about plans to dispose of conservation land with ‘low or limited’ value. "Where land genuinely has no conservation value, we have no problem with it being removed from the conservation estate. But some of the Coast’s lowland forests, although modified, are nationally rare and have very high conservation values," says Ms Miller.

"There are however some really great ideas in this plan. We support the development of the Coast’s digital infrastructure, and new cycle trails including the Kawatiri (Charleston to Westport) Coastal Trail - this is a great example of the kind of sustainable tourism initiative we’d like to see more of."

"We’d also like to see more diversity in the Economic Strategy Group who carry this plan forward. Right now the group lacks youth, diversity, conservation interests, and tourism operators who rely on the natural environment."

"Overall this is a missed opportunity. The future for coal looks bleak. West Coasters have the right to expect a sustainable and innovative economic plan that gives them certainty and doesn’t destroy their unique environment."