Introduction

An application by the Hawke’s Bay Regional Investment Company to exchange land required for the Ruataniwha water storage scheme has been approved by DOC Director General Lou Sanson.

Date:  05 October 2015

Lou Sanson says he has approved the land exchange because it will mean a net gain for conservation. 

The decision means that the Department of Conservation will receive approximately 170 hectares of private land containing beech forest and regenerating native bush, in return for 22 hectares of the Ruahine Forest Park. 

“The public will gain three times the area of black beech forest under this proposal, plus the new land will extend and complement the adjacent Gwavas Conservation Area,” he says. 

The 170 hectare exchange block also includes two additional wetland sites, and is promising habitat for skinks and geckos, he says. 

“On the other hand, the 22 hectares to be removed from the Ruahine Forest Park has been heavily logged in the past, is partly infested with weeds such as willow and Darwin’s barberry and contains a former house site,” Lou Sanson says. 

Mr Sanson says the decision follows a thorough and open public process and the careful assessment of the ecological values of both sites.  

The Director General has decided to revoke the protected status of the 22 hectares of Ruahine Forest Park to enable the exchange to take place. 

Under the Conservation Act, proposed land exchanges must result in an overall conservation gain for public conservation land and promote the purposes of the Act. 

“I believe this land exchange well and truly meets that test,” he says. 

Lou Sanson says the land exchange is conditional on the Hawke’s Bay Regional Investment Company undertaking extra conservation programmes to help eradicate wilding pines from the exchange land and to restore whio/blue duck habitat. 

The exchange is also conditional on the Ruataniwha water storage scheme going ahead. 

In a separate decision, the Hawke’s Bay Regional Investment Company will be required to trap and transfer native fish species present at the dam site. 

Full details of these decisions, including ecological reports, are available at www.doc.govt.nz/ruataniwha.

View a map of land being exchanged (PDF, 3,933K).

Background information

1. What land is being exchanged and how will it be affected?

The Hawke’s Bay Regional Investment Company Ltd’s application involves an exchange of 22 hectares of Ruahine Forest Park for approximately 170 hectares of private land. The private land is part of a property known as Smedley Station which adjoins land managed by the department at the north-eastern edge of the proposed storage dam. It contains regenerating native bush and beech forest. The 22 hectares of Forest Park would become inundated by waters contained behind the storage dam. 

2.  What is the current legal status of Ruahine Forest Park?

The forest park is a former State Forest Park that was allocated to the department in 1987. It is deemed to be 'Conservation Park' and is managed as such under the Conservation Act 1987. 

3.  Are you revoking all of Ruahine Forest Park, or just the portion required for the land exchange/dam?

The status is being revoked for just the 22 hectares of Forest Park that is required for the land exchange.

4.  What does ‘overall conservation gain’ mean?

Under the Conservation Act, any exchange must enhance the conservation values of land managed by the Department and promote the purposes of the Conservation Act. There must be a genuine net benefit to public conservation land. 

5.  Does this mean the Department has given approval for the dam?

No. It is not the Department’s role to decide whether or not the dam should go ahead – that decision was made by the Board of Inquiry over months of deliberation. DOC’s role was to deal with the land exchange application placed in front of it. This decision was made by careful consideration of the ecological values of both pieces of land and working out what would be the best outcome for public conservation land managed by the Department. 

6. How would public conservation land benefit from this land exchange?

Full ecological reports are available on DOC’s website. In summary:

  • The Department will gain three times the amount of black beech forest.
  • The Smedley exchange block includes two additional wetland sites, and is promising habitat for skinks and geckos.
  • The new land will extend and complement the adjacent Gwavas Conservation Area.
  • The Ruahine Forest Park land has been heavily logged in the past, is in a generally degraded state and requires a higher level of management than the Smedley exchange block.
  • The Smedley exchange block is significantly larger and can support habitats and vegetation that are not present in the land needed for the dam.
7. How was the public consulted?

The Department ran an open process of public consultation over the revocation and land exchange proposal. The Department advertised in December 2014 that it proposed to revoke the conservation park status of the section of Ruahine Forest Park that is sought for exchange. Submissions closed on 3 March 2015. Seven written submissions were received and five of those submitters were heard at a public hearing in Hastings on 10 March 2015. As a result of that hearing further information was sought by the Department and submitters given an opportunity to comment further on that information. The Department also consulted with the Wellington Conservation Board and iwi on both the revocation and the proposed exchange.

8. What was the decision process?

Following the hearings, DOC staff analysed each submission and provided a summary of submissions, along with ecological reports, to the Director General of Conservation, who has been delegated to make the final decision on the revocation of Conservation Park status and land exchange. 

9. Does this decision set a precedent for revoking the status of conservation park land?

No. This is a process that is available to the Department and one that we have used a number of times before. These decisions are not taken lightly. The process is thorough, open to the public and carefully considers ecological values of the land. The revocation of status requires public notice and the consideration of any objections or submissions.

10. How will the Department mitigate the effects of the dam on native fish species?

The dam will block migratory fish from moving upstream so under the Freshwater Fisheries Regulations, the Department will require the Hawke’s Bay Regional Investment Company to provide an approved trap and transfer regime of native freshwater fish species present at the dam site. The Company must report regularly to the Department on the performance of the trap and transfer system and change it if it is not performing adequately. Fish screening measures will prevent fish from entering intake structures. See the Ruataniwha revocation and land exchange decision for a full report on this decision.

Contact

For media enquiries contact:

Phone: +64 4 496 1911
Email: media@doc.govt.nz

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