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.

Coastal News - - Front Page - By ALI­SON SMITH [email protected]­hileader.co.nz

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.

PHO­TOS / FILE

Kauri with dieback near Whi­tianga.

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