Friday, April 12, 2024

SNA suspension gives farmers ‘breathing space’

Neal Wallace
Government says policy change won’t violate property rights.
Reading Time: 2 minutes

Farming groups have welcomed the government suspending for three years the requirement for councils to comply with the significant natural areas policy.

Identifying significant natural areas (SNAs) on private land is required as part of the National Policy Statement for Indigenous Biodiversity, but it was seen as an attack on property rights, overly bureaucratic and would impact farm productivity.

Associate Environment Minister Andrew Hoggard says ceasing implementation was connected to the coalition government’s re-write of the Resource Management Act.

Beef+Lamb NZ chair Kate Acland said the announcement gives farmers some breathing space.

“Concern about the expense and workability of the previous government’s environmental reform agenda is affecting farmer confidence, so any move to address some of the particularly flawed rules is very welcome.” 

Acland says the previous government had been repeatedly told the criteria for SNAs was too broad and that more time was needed to assess the effects of the proposed policy.

“The current criteria for an SNA are far too broad and will capture huge swathes of sheep and beef farmland, tying up farmers in red tape and penalising those who have done the most to look after the native biodiversity on their land. 

“We need a rethink on biodiversity and want a system that turns biodiversity into an asset rather than the current framework which turns it into a liability.” 

Federated Farmers Resource Management Act (RMA) reform spokesman Mark Hooper said repealing the provision was one of the organisation’s 12 election priorities.

He said the previous government’s proposed reform of the RMA completely missed the mark, adding complexity, cost, and uncertainty.

“Today’s repeal is a positive step forward, but it’s very much a case of the job only being half done.”

Hoggard said under the current policy, SNAs identified on private property limited new activities and proposed development.

“In their current form they represent a confiscation of property rights and undermine conservation efforts by the people who care most about the environment, the people who make a living from it.” 

Any policy changes would not violate property rights as doing so removed conservation incentives.

“I have also asked for a review of the operation of existing SNAs more broadly, including those implemented under the powers that councils have in the RMA.” 

Hoggard said  NZ has 180,000ha of privately-owned land protected under QEII covenants. Acland said there is 2.8m ha of native vegetation on sheep and beef farms.

Dr Duane Peltzer, a Principal Scientist in Ecosystem Ecology with Landcare Research, says SNAs are a major tool to stop or reverse the decline in biodiversity.

He is critical of a lack of evidence given for the policy’s suspension and says that while a review of national policy and implementation are appropriate, it must be based on sound evidence to the benefit of landowners and indigenous species alike.

The vice-president of the NZ Ecological Society, Dr Jo Monks, says the NPS-IB was the result of stakeholder engagement and compromise.

Private land and Crown leases contain most of NZ’s 45 endangered or vulnerable ecosystems along with thousands of threatened or at-risk plant, reptile, bat and freshwater fish species.

“If these ecosystems and species are lost here, they are lost to the world.”

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