Coun­cil reach­ing for the stars

The Northland Age - - Local News - By Peter de Graaf

The North Hokianga could join a se­lect group of places around the world with of­fi­cial ‘dark sky’ if a Far North District Coun­cil pro­posal wins lo­cal back­ing.

Only 13 dark sky re­serves — ar­eas with out­stand­ing night skies and pro­tec­tion from fu­ture sources of light pol­lu­tion — are recog­nised around the world by the In­ter­na­tional Dark-Sky As­so­ci­a­tion (IDA). The only one in New Zealand is Ao­raki Macken­zie In­ter­na­tional Dark Sky Re­serve, com­pris­ing Ao­raki/ Mt Cook Na­tional Park and the Macken­zie Basin.

Great Bar­rier Is­land and Ste­wart Is­land are of­fi­cial dark sky sanctuarie­s, which are more re­mote than dark sky re­serves, with few, if any, threats to the night sky. Only six dark sky sanctuarie­s ex­ist world­wide.

Far North District Coun­cil com­mu­nity devel­op­ment ad­viser Ken Ross said dark sky sta­tus could boost bou­tique tourism in the North Hokianga, es­pe­cially home stays and marae-based ac­tiv­i­ties.

Un­like Cape Reinga, which many tourists vis­ited as a day trip from the Bay of Is­lands, any­one who wanted to see the stars had to stay overnight.

Dark sky sta­tus could, how­ever, also mean re­stric­tions on some types of devel­op­ment through changes in the district plan to limit fu­ture light pol­lu­tion.

Mr Ross said he was try­ing to get a work­ing group to­gether to pur­sue the idea. Broad­wood and Ko­hukohu res­i­dents were keen, but the group needed broad rep­re­sen­ta­tion of North Hokianga peo­ple if it was to gain trust and cred­i­bil­ity.

He had com­pleted a map­ping ex­er­cise, iden­ti­fy­ing all sources of po­ten­tial pol­lu­tion, such as light­ing at road in­ter­sec­tions and se­cu­rity lights on large build­ings.

A mem­ber of the US-based IDA was “very ex­cited” by the idea when he vis­ited New Zealand re­cently.

“Just look­ing at the maps he could see North Hokianga was a sit­ter for it,” he said.

Pre­serv­ing night skies would also have en­vi­ron­men­tal ben­e­fits, he added, be­cause many plants and an­i­mals de­ter­mined the time of year from the length of the night.

When nights were no longer dark due to man-made light, plants flow­ered and an­i­mals pro­duced hor­mones at the wrong time of year, a phe­nom­e­non that was thought to be just a fac­tor in the cur­rent global wave of ex­tinc­tions.

The next steps would in­clude tak­ing a se­ries of mea­sure­ments around the North Hokianga to en­sure that night sky met IDA cri­te­ria.

Mean­while, Mr Ross was also seek­ing fund­ing for the project, a bid for a Lot­ter­ies grant hav­ing been un­suc­cess­ful. The govern­ment’s One Bil­lion Trees pro­gramme was cre­at­ing eco­nomic, en­vi­ron­men­tal and so­cial ben­e­fits across re­gional New Zealand through its forestry joint ven­ture agree­ments, just a year af­ter it was launched, ac­cord­ing to Forestry Min­is­ter Shane Jones.

Twenty-one joint ven­tures had been signed be­tween Te Uru Ra¯kau (Forestry New Zealand), the lead agency, and land own­ers across the coun­try, the most re­cent of them with Te Uri o Hau, where 2843ha of plan­ta­tion forestry would be es­tab­lished on the Pouto Penin­sula, and Ta­puwae Inc, cov­er­ing up to 800ha in the Hokianga’s Ta­puwae For­est.

“Te Uri o Hau is the sec­ond­largest plant­ing ini­tia­tive for the One Bil­lion Trees Pro­gramme to date,” Mr Jones said.

“This brings the to­tal plant­ing area across joint ven­tures to 13,000ha, more than half­way to our to­tal of 24,000ha.

“These agree­ments are see­ing plant­ing and sil­vi­cul­ture jobs cre­ated that weren’t there be­fore, they’re of­fer­ing land own­ers, in­clud­ing Ma¯ori, the abil­ity to di­ver­sify in­come and im­prove land pro­duc­tiv­ity, and they’re cre­at­ing real en­vi­ron­men­tal and so­cial ben­e­fits too,” he added.

“We are see­ing a huge amount of goodwill and in­ter­est, with more than 260 en­quiries from a wide range of land own­ers and a fur­ther 35 prop­er­ties to­talling 10,000ha cur­rently un­der ne­go­ti­a­tion.

“Along with these joint ven­tures, the new One Bil­lion Trees Fund, launched in Novem­ber, is of­fer­ing sim­ple and di­rect grants to land own­ers who are look­ing to in­te­grate trees into their land­scapes, with more than 700 en­quiries so far.

“The wider One Bil­lion Trees goal to plant at least one bil­lion trees by 2028 is an am­bi­tious one, but is a com­mit­ment from the govern­ment to drive re­gional re­vi­tal­i­sa­tion and de­liver ben­e­fits to our peo­ple and our en­vi­ron­ment. It also sup­ports Ma¯ori to re­alise the po­ten­tial of their land.”

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