By Don Carson, Forest Owners Association Communications Manager
OPINION: The events of 15 and 16 July could not have been more different. On Friday 15th rural communities throughout New Zealand stood up in protest against the regulatory burdens the government is imposing.
The day after the Friday protest, the heavens opened up over central New Zealand with flood levels not seen before in people’s lifetimes.
You can’t, of course, say that the protest caused the floods, any more than you can state that climate change caused the floods. But you can say with considerable authority that these types of severe floods will be more common and worse, as climate change cuts-in for New Zealand.
This is the new and frightening world.
And you can also say logically that dealing with climate change is a task well beyond individual action and somehow governments have a role, as they will also do trying to deal with other environmental concerns.
But the intervention of governments must be both necessary and fair.
The Significant Natural Areas legislation is neither. The Forest Owners Association issued a media statement on the day of the rural protests objecting to the SNA regime as an example of bad rules.
SNAs transfer the obligations of a government to preserve the environment onto individuals and their land.
Many landowners have put in a lot of work to enhance biodiversity on their properties over the years. They have done this because they want to do something good for the environment.
This applies equally to farmers, foresters and people in cities who have big back-yards.
But their effort will earn them regulatory obligations. Their neighbours, who have wiped out all their indigenous foliage, will have no such obligations.
Given the fragile nature of a regenerating or planted indigenous forest, the owner’s obligation to passively protect, will almost inevitably morph into a much greater and expensive obligation to actively manage their spots of indigenous ecosystems.
Otherwise, there is no point in creating SNAs.
The Chair of the Environment Select Committee, Eugenie Sage, responded to the Forest Owners release that SNAs are not appropriating land as stated in the media release, but that if owners want to apply for a resource consent, then they can do so.
Ownership is not just title. Ownership, as the lawyers will tell you, is a bundle of rights. For those who own land for production, that right is to use that land for what they want to, short of causing nuisance to their neighbours.
SNAs diminish that right. It is a form of government expropriation.
If a government wishes to have more indigenous biodiversity, then it should look at the chronically underfunded DoC estate.
It could also provide more assistance to landowners who are voluntarily doing their bit, as so many have done with QEII covenants.
The recommendation of the Climate Change Commission, for more government effort to control herbivorous pests, is one positive step in this direction. SNAs are not.