In 2014 FMC launched a “Forgotten Lands” campaign in response to the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment’s report “Investigating the future of conservation: the case of Stewardship land. The campaign was designed to amplify the issue, change peoples perception of this land classification and push for eventual reclassification of areas of stewardship land, particularly those with high natural and recreational values.
When the Department of Conservation was established in 1987, more than 10% of New Zealand, much of it with high conservation value, was placed into the temporary classification of stewardship land, parcels of land now typically known as Conservation Areas, which lack the level of protection and active management afforded to other areas managed under the Conservation Act 1987 or the National Parks Act 1980. Stewardship land is vulnerable to prospective developers particularly through the mechanism of “land swaps”, where conservation areas are traded for private land if a net benefit is perceived, a vulnerability that gained notoriety through the swapping of nature heritage fund purchased land on the Craigeburn range with bush on Banks Peninsula and a proposed swap of forest land near Seddonville to enable the construction of a hydroelectric dam
FMC joined a broad spectrum of voices emphasising that these areas were not low value, they had simply not being assessed, and that their assessment and reclassification should be a priority. In particular FMC proposed formal incorporation of eight outstanding natural areas into conservation parks, recreation parks, or national parks:
Where we are at now (August 2019)
The biggest success of the Forgotten Lands campaign and the complementary endeavours of the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment has been the change in the public’s understanding on the status of stewardship land. It is now widely understood that stewardship land is not “low value” conservation land. While a few development proposals, such as the hydroelectric scheme on the Waitaha, are attempting to premeditate a thorough assessment of the land, at a landscape scale for conservation purposes, there is an awareness that such processes will be subject to public opposition.
There has been much discussion within DOC and on Conservation Boards about the best way of prioritising reclassification. Many North Island stewardship lands are still subject to Treaty of Waitangi Claims and can’t be progressed at this time. In 2015 DOC identified three large areas and fifteen smaller areas to progress based on conservation values, compliance with existing statutory planning, avoidance on conflict with mining interests and economies of scale. The three large areas are the St James, Mokihinui and the Te Wāhipounamu World Heritage Area, which were all within FMC’s Forgotten Lands Campaign and together comprise close to 700,000 hectares, or 27.5% of New Zealand’s stewardship land. By far the biggest success to-date has been the addition of 64,000 hectares of the Mokihinui catchment to Kahurangi National Park
Where to from here
FMC expects this to be a long campaign, we know from decades long commitments to National Parks, Wilderness Areas, Conservation Parks and Tenure Review processes, that the statutory wheels turn slowly. It is though encouraging to see concrete action already taking place. FMC will continue to put our shoulder to the wheel of all the processes, including the promotion of the Remarkables National Park
At a general level FMC will continue to celebrate the conservation and recreation values of stewardship lands, ensure that the expectation of reclassification is enshrined in Conservation Management strategies and that land thoroughly assessed through tenure review is given a proper classification as that process is completed. We also continue to advocate to protect threatened stewardship land. Places like: the Waitaha, Griffin Creek and Whangapoua Forest
At a specific level FMC is considering targeted campaigns to ensure stewardship areas at risk, or of high conservation value, are reclassified as a priority.
What you can do?
Understand the stewardship lands problem and explain it to others. Cherish your connection with your local stewardship lands and visit them regularly with your friends and family. Submit to statutory processes affecting stewardship lands. Support FMC and organisations that share our values.