DO OR DIEBACK
Environment Court takes swing at council: Step up and regulate or risk the ‘catastrophic’ consequences of not acting to contain kauri dieback.
Thames-coromandel District Council has been ordered by the Environment Court to step up and regulate or risk “catastrophic” consequences of not taking steps to prevent the spread of kauri dieback disease across the district.
Weak proposed district plan measures were brought to the Environment Court’s attention by the Director General of Conservation. The court said TCDC’S proposed district plan had no clear effective voluntary mechanisms to halt the spread of infected soil through earthworks, an apparent lack of any proposal for monitoring in any event, and measures that focused on knowing when the disease had manifested itself rather than doing what was needed to prevent its spread in the first place.
“The likely consequences of not controlling the disease are expected potentially to be catastrophic for the species,” the court ruling says.
The council was ordered to introduce regulations to protect kauri from importation and spread of the pathogen through earthworks, regardless of how the land was zoned.
The disease — which has been found on numerous private properties and Conservation land on the Coromandel already — kills kauri of all sizes and is spread by a pinhead of infected soil. There is no known cure.
In the court ruling that was released earlier this year, a panel of Environment Court judges led by Principal Environment Court Judge LJ Newhook ordered TCDC to make protection measures for kauri mandatory instead of voluntary and apply them everywhere.
DOC had called TCDC on what it saw as toothless provisions in its proposed District Plan that had applied only to earthworks in rural, conservation and rural lifestyle land.
“The issues with this pathogen are serious and urgent. It is not an answer to say that understanding the science around the disease is in its infancy, and there is no cure in sight yet,” the court ruled.
“Steps should at least be taken, and urgently, to minimise the spread of the scourge as far as reasonably possible, while the search for a cure or means of scientific control continue.
“This disease is not waiting around. It is a terrible reality, having marked effects on northern North Island forests. We agree… that regulation in District Plans is not only desirable; it is necessary.
“We also accept that there can be no one silver bullet, but that various agencies must take steps within their respective areas of jurisdiction or influence. That said, we express real concern that to date there has been mostly talk, and not enough “do”.”
The Council was brought to Court after TCDC had dismissed DOC’S appeal on earthwork provisions in its proposed district plan. Landowners — the Sieling family — and Federated Farmers of NZ joined the Council on its stance which set a voluntary approach to kauri protection.
However, both Waihi Gold Company and Waikato Regional Council backed Conservation Director Lou Sanson’s stance. Court-ordered mediation followed and a draft consent order was filed, proposing earthworks be allowed as long as vehicles and equipment are thoroughly washed down and soil wasn’t moved from within three times the canopy of a kauri in conservation and rural land, unless the soil is dumped to landfill.
Mining and farming was “strongly advised to carry out voluntary measures” to prevent the spread of the disease — prompting the judge to remind the parties again of the seriousness the Court attached to having effective controls on earthworks.
The Court said it was not clear what effective voluntary mechanisms might exist; pointed out that the focus was wrongly on when the disease has manifested itself in certain trees rather than on advance control to prevent its spread; and an apparent lack of any proposal for monitoring in any event.
“The likely consequences of not controlling the disease are expected potentially to be catastrophic for the species,” the court warned. “It would be fair to say that the parties were then on notice of the seriousness that the Court attached to the need for effective controls on earthworks to assist prevent (sic) dieback spread, and its preliminary reservations about reliance on voluntary measures.”
TCDC argued over the practicality of monitoring and enforcement, and requiring vehicles and equipment to be washed down in remote locations, and the possibility of unintended consequences like landowners chopping trees down to avoid regulation.
It argued that it could protect kauri through a plan change, claiming an “administrative burden” from having to find and notify every person with an interest in land in any of the zones not covered by DOC’S initial appeal.
However, the argument was rejected.
“The Court will often be guided by the preference of a respondent council in this regard. However, on this occasion, on the evidence described in this decision, we are concerned that the problem is serious and urgent . . .
“We direct that the Council consult the other parties to this appeal on processes that could undertaken . . . and report as soon as possible to the Court.”
Costs were reserved.
Kauri with dieback near Whitianga.