Saturday, December 2, 2023

Feds flags ‘increased uncertainty’ in new SNA regs 

Neal Wallace
Final version said to ignore draft suggestions about using plain language.
The National Policy Statement on Indigenous Biodiversity applies to all land types and sets out what the Ministry for the Environment calls consistent ecological criteria to identify where SNAs are located.
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New regulations intended to further protect indigenous biodiversity have failed to fix flaws identified in earlier drafts, a farming leader says.

The regulations become law in August.

Federated Farmers board member Mark Hooper said the final version of the National Policy Statement on Indigenous Biodiversity (NPSIB) ignores suggestions made on earlier drafts to provide clarity and use plain language so landowners can understand their obligations.

It also fails to acknowledge existing biodiversity protection by landowners, Hooper said, instead focusing on preventing further loss but without providing any obvious metric or quantitative way for landowners to measure Significant Natural Areas (SNAs).

“Landowners need to understand and interpret what is expected of them so they can avoid activity that involves Significant Natural Areas,” Hooper said.

“What we ended up with didn’t meet those goals.

“Where we had hoped for certainty, now we have got increased uncertainty.”

District and city councils will primarily be responsible for enforcing and administering the NPSIB from August 4. Hooper said this will increase tension and he questioned whether there are sufficient ecologists and other experts available to support the policy.

Councils will work with landowners to identify SNAs and, depending on what stage councils are at, a report prepared for the Ministry for the Environment (MFE) estimates one-off and ongoing costs over the next 30 years for implementation and administering the policies.

The cost for territorial authorities is estimated at between $500,000 and $2.6 million, regional councils $800,000 to $2.1m and unitary authorities $1.3m to $4.7m.

The estimated cost to the Department of Conservation is between $3.6m and $5.1m and central government support for Tangata Whenua is $14.6m, although some of that will offset to territorial authorities.

The opportunity cost for private and Māori owners for land used for infrastructure, mining and quarrying that contains SNAs, is calculated at $32.5m, described as “a one-off short term cost”.

The bulk of SNAs are on Māori and public land.

An MFE spokesperson said councils are already required to protect SNAs under the Resource Management Act (RMA), but the NPSIB provides guidance that is clearer and tighter.

An area qualifies as an SNA when it has ecological representativeness, diversity and pattern and rarity and distinctiveness.

The spokesperson said SNA criteria have been tightened to ensure protected areas have the most significant biodiversity.

Common indigenous species classified as “at risk” do not by themselves trigger an SNA but if there is any debate over identification of SNAs, a physical inspection is required.

Another change is that matagouri and mānuka will no longer trigger an SNA unless they are rare in a region.

Existing activities such as grazing and forestry can continue under the NPSIB provided their effects remain at the same level and do not increase the loss of native plants or animals in an SNA.   

There are no requirements for fencing or pest control. 

The government is exploring a biodiversity credit system to incentivise farmers to undertake conservation protection work of native plants and animals.

Funding of nearly $20m over four years to support NPSIB implementation and the biodiversity credits work was allocated in last year’s budget.  

For landowners applying for resource consent for new activities or developments that may affect native plants and animals, the MFE advises more requirements may have to be met.

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