In this occasional series, David Barnes attempts to unravel and demystify the different types of conservation land.
When DoC was formed, the productive assets of Lands and Survey and the Forest Service went to Landcorp and Forestry Corporation. DoC took over national parks and reserves from Lands and Survey and forest parks from the Forest Service – plus huge tracts of land that didn’t really have a label. Much of it had been under Forest Service control, and they called much of that State Forest, but that was essentially an administrative label, rather than a legal one. Anyway, this land was put in a sort of holding pen, with the idea that at some point the good stuff would be reclassified as a park or reserve and the bits of limited value were could be disposed of. This was called stewardship land. DoC was charged with looking after it while a decision was made about what to do with it. The pool of stewardship land grew over time, with land that DoC acquired – through tenure review, Crown purchase or purchase by the Nature Heritage Fund – also put into the holding pen. It ended up as about 30% of what was now the public conservation estate and a tenth of the country’s land area. In 2013, the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment put out a report suggesting that DoC get cracking and do the reclassification, and FMC started its Forgotten Lands campaign at the same time.
While stewardship land is deemed to be “held for conservation purposes”, there are still several problems with the classification. Firstly, some of it is undoubtedly of high enough value to warrant one of the high-level statuses. That’s why FMC is calling for the creation of a Remarkables National Park. Secondly, stewardship land can be swapped. That’s what DoC tried to do with the land needed for the Ruataniwha dam – until blocked by the Supreme Court. It had to downgrade a chunk of Ruahine Forest Park to stewardship, to allow the swap. (It’s the downgrade that the court said couldn’t be done). Thirdly, despite no proper assessment of values, the message is out there – possibly misinformed, but possibly mischievous – that stewardship land is of low value. Then-Conservation Minister Nick Smith said as much when he granted a mining company access to a site on the Denniston Plateau, north east of Westport.
Next time: Ecological areas and sanctuary areas.