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NRT: A death-knell for Ruataniwha?

Written By: - Date published: 12:52 pm, August 31st, 2016 - 54 comments
Categories: Conservation, law, sustainability, water - Tags: , , ,

I/S at No Right Turn writes:

A death-knell for Ruataniwha?

The Court of Appeal has ruled on Forest & Bird’s appeal against the Ruataniwha Dam, finding that the Department of Conservation could not trade protected land unless it no longer needed to be protected:

The future of the proposed Ruataniwha water storage scheme is uncertain after the Court of Appeal found the Director-General of Conservation was not entitled to revoke the special conservation status of Ruahine Forest Park land.
The Department of Conservation (DOC) and the Hawke’s Bay Regional Investment Company had agreed to exchange 22 hectares of Ruahine Forest Park land for 170 ha of nearby farmland known as the Smedley block.

In order to create a reservoir behind the dam, the flooding of the 22 hectares of the DOC land was required.

Forest and Bird lawyer Sally Gepp said she was “ecstatic” over the decision because it had confirmed the fundamental tenet of the Conservation Act to safeguard specially protected areas.

If the ruling stands, it won’t just kill the dam, but also National’s policy of trying to crack open reserves for development through an ideology of “net conservation gain”. The Court of Appeal has affirmed that the law simply does not support that policy. In the process, it has also called some of DoC’s past land-swaps (for example, with the Porter ski field) into doubt.

54 comments on “NRT: A death-knell for Ruataniwha? ”

  1. weka 1

    “Because the Director-General did not exercise his discretion to revoke by focussing on the land’s intrinsic values, but rather took into account the objective of exchanging the land and the net gain to the conservation estate, the decision was unlawful,” the Court said.


    Very good. The next step is to recognise that nature itself has rights. That the land’s intrinsic values go beyond what humans can do with that land.

    • adam 1.1

      “Very good. The next step is to recognise that nature itself has rights. That the land’s intrinsic values go beyond what humans can do with that land.”

      Sheesh weka, do you want to cause a riot? Most of the Muppet’s’ here couldn’t even get there heads around that concept, let alone support it. To much invested in their superiority of man.

      • weka 1.1.1

        Lol. It’s alright, I think in the end it will be a fairly natural transition to remember that we are part of nature and at that point nature’s rights become self evident (and human-serving 😉 ).

  2. Brigid 2

    Anyway if DOC intends to continue to try to raise funds by trading forestry for farm land it wont have anything to protect.
    And how dare they do trades with our forest with some corporate.

    • TC 2.1

      National ‘fixed’ DOC so it does as told now just like their police force does.

      • Michelle 2.1.1

        police do as they are told, newsreaders do as they are told and public servants do as they are told as they have been gagged.

      • The New Student 2.1.2

        Exactly. It takes a special kind of person to grit their teeth and work with Nat policy day in day out

  3. “Having rights” doesn’t sound like a natural law to me. Rights are human constructs that can benefit the non-human world or devastate it in equal measure. I think using the idea of “rights” won’t advance the discussion at all.
    I did begin to wonder though, about a plan to mess with two taniwha 🙂

    • weka 3.1

      I’ve seen it being used in a couple of ways. One has come from indigenous peoples, where the right relationship with nature is seen as being intrinsic to being human (humans belong to the land not the other way round, all of life has value etc). The other is where Western ideas are looking for Western ways to protect nature further e.g. the Green Party are looking at this currently. Part of the latter argument is that if corporations can have personhood then nature should too. I’m comfortable with the former, uncomfortable with the latter. I agree there are perils here, but also potentials for not just good but radical change.

      Part of the Te Urewera settlement involved these things, and work is involved on securing rights for the Whanganui River. I haven’t looked at those closely enough to understand them well, or see how much real protection there is. Most of the the coverage I have seen has come from overseas sources.


      The best NZ source I have heard is Moana Jackson, who has been working on long term advancement of a NZ constitution that ensures the rights of nature. He has been working with the Bolivians I think, who have already written this into their constitution provisionally. Not sure how much is online, will see what I can dig up.

      I agree that rights are human constructs. Not sure that there is any way around that give how the human world is currently.

      Ruataniwha, could be the lair of the taniwha too 😉

      • “Right relationship with nature”, yes, “rights”, no, imo.
        Formalising a hierarchy of rights means deciding and deciding got us into this mess; in and out, high and low, live and die (what rights would you assign to a tapeworm?)
        Relationship is a different thing. I’ll plump for that.

        • weka

          One of the reasons I like the rights angle is because it very quickly brings us to having to consider the relationship. If we were to acknowlege that tapeworms have rights, what happens when we need to kill them? When we can hold those two realities at the same time, then we’ll be getting somewhere.

          btw, I don’t think it’s about assigning specific rights to species or individuals, I think it’s about recognising that they already exist. Two entirely different things.

      • Draco T Bastard 3.1.2

        Part of the latter argument is that if corporations can have personhood then nature should too. I’m comfortable with the former, uncomfortable with the latter.

        Corporations should not have personhood. The environment needs to be protected but I don’t see how giving it personhood would achieve that. It seems to be a way to bypass people’s fears about damage to the economy if we simply protect the environment instead of business.

        • weka

          “Corporations should not have personhood.”

          I agree, which is why I’m uncomfortable with that comparison being used in some of the nature rights arguments.

    • Draco T Bastard 3.2

      Generally speaking I tend to think that rights have to be balanced by responsibilities. i.e, A right has inherent responsibilities which are often ignored or simply not even realised in contemporary society.

      Then there’s the fact that some rights aren’t rights at all but duties and responsibilities.

      • weka 3.2.1

        Interesting. What’s the reponsibility that goes with the right not be discriminated against on the basis of sexual orientation?

        • Bill

          Yeah well, rather than any torturous negative right to “not to be discriminated against”, it’s probably just as well that we tend to formulate it in a positive way ie, we say that no-one has the right to discriminate…and then shit’s covered with no onus falling on potential targets of discrimination.

        • Draco T Bastard

          The responsibility to call it out when it happens.

          • weka

            Ah, ok, I see what you mean now. I was a bit confused because the same language is used by neoliberals around social contracts and responsibilities of citizens. Different thing though.

      • If you grant organisms that cause suffering in humans, rights, how will you convey to them, their responsibilities?

        • Draco T Bastard

          I wouldn’t. We need to put in place protection for the environment but not through giving the environment rights but as part of the responsibilities that we have.

  4. “Right relationship with life” might be a better description. Humans are natural, of nature, there’s no going outside of her.

    • RedLogix 4.1

      Depends on what you mean by nature. Yes we are still a part of the natural world, but there is also good reason to argue we have become post-Darwinian in the manner it applies to all other creatures.

      Whether we frame our future choices as rights or responsibilities matters less than the fact that it will be our knowledge, our will, and our actions that will determine the outcome.

      • “it will be our knowledge, our will, and our actions that will determine the outcome.”
        Now the horse trading starts (bad model, I know), perhaps “exchange of fluids through cell walls”, something like that.

  5. Kevin 5

    I feel a “Bill under urgency” coming on…

    • Jones 5.1

      Yep… the Nats will just change the Conservation Act.

      • dukeofurl 5.1.1

        Thats it in a nutshell. The judges arent seeing the ‘rights of conservation land’. Its just the wording doesnt allow them to do what they want.
        The wording will be changed without doubt.

  6. Ad 6

    Crown Law should get its ass kicked for this.

    Great hit by my favourite advocates NZ Forest and Bird.

    A Public Works Act acquisition response would not surprise me.

    HBRC have now voted $80m to support the project – just in time for the election.
    I don’t think this is stopped by any stretch.

    • Why would the HBRC invest $80m of ratepayers money into a project that benefits private industry, ie: farming. Surely there are significant numbers of HBRC ratepayers who are not going to be on the receiving end of this irrigation enablement/subsidy?

      • Ad 6.1.1

        Now that the HBRC has voted $$ in favour, guaranteed HBRIC will get the ink dry on a construction contract before the election – just make it subject to the land at the top. They won’t want it unwound by a future Council.

        The ratepayers who supported it turned up in good numbers to support the vote going through, from what I saw on the TVNZ News clip.

        I think a major change in Council makeup through the upcoming election would be the major outstanding risk to the project now.

        As for the question: why would they do it? I think you can probably get the propaganda off their website.

        But the motivation for the government is and has been clear from the first day they were in office: increase productivity of every acre of the non-DOC estate of New Zealand.

        Every single acre.

        • Robert Guyton

          Ad – I was watching the right-wing/farming blogs while they frantically mustered support for that “turnout”. They mobilised well, as they can, and made support for the dam seem widespread, which it was, inside the farming/progress bubble.

      • AB 6.1.2

        “a nasty little nest of self-perpetuating provincial elites” perhaps?

    • Hanswurst 6.2

      I don’t think this is stopped by any stretch.

      No, however the conventional institutional legitimacy provided by such a court decision will hopefully see a more searching public discussion begin.

      • Ad 6.2.1

        The only thing they will watch is the election coming up.
        That is the mandate.

        • Hanswurst

          That’s certainly the right conclusion in the immediate situation. The wider problem as I see it, though, is that most of the public think that NZ’s clean, green image is somehow indestructible, and that the state takes cultural and environmental values into adequate consideration by design. That is a hangover from the 80s/90s with such measures as nuclear-free legislation, the RMA and the establishment of the Waitangi Tribunal.

          Here, the courts have ended up at odds with the ministry over whether a substantial piece of infrastructure for economic benefit can be reconciled with principles of environmental conservation that the NZ public agreed on decades ago, and that it still seems to subscribe to, if the protests over mining on schedule 4 land a few years ago are any indicator. The memory of those protests and this latest ruling give me some hope that a public debate might be had which results in discouraging future governments, National or Labour, from taking a cavalier attitude towards conservation.

  7. prickles 7

    Great news for Hawkes Bay – now just need to get the Waimea/Lee Valley dam in Tasman scuttled as well. There’s a landswap been mooted there as well but ssshhhh – TDC don’t want anyone to know that.

    • Hey, prickles. The Lee is my river – swam there as a boy as often as possible, even biking from Richmond to get there and spend the day (and night, tenting) so that I could be in that beautiful water. All power to those who want to protect the Lee from damming.

  8. I have always disliked the ability of DoC to swap/trade protected land and I am pleased this case has occurred. The dam is a goner too. Pretty good day when these things happen.

  9. mauī 9

    Fingers crossed this dam is breached so good news on that point.

    I have seen the land swap thing first hand. Developer owns land with DoC land marooned inside it. Developer has new ideas on accessing and changing the boundaries of the Doc land, Council thinks this is a great idea. DoC too busy and staff turnover/restructuring means they have no idea what’s going on with said piece of land and in the end thinks what the developer is doing is also great. Signs it off. Sacred land becomes developer’s play thing aided and abetted by the endless growth industrial economy.

  10. Grant Henderson 10

    Now that the Forest & Bird Society has done a great job on this issue, people should send them a donation to boost their fighting fund. Taking a case to the Court of Appeal is an expensive exercise.

    Donations can be made via their website (http://www.forestandbird.org.nz/). Even a small amount will make a difference.

    Let’s support healthy, free-flowing rivers for all to enjoy.

  11. jcuknz 11

    Once again Labour and Greens jump for joy at a block to progress.

    Better would b a meaningful way to re-settle those creatures rather than have their homes flooded. a forced eviction.

    • dukeofurl 11.1

      There are no creatures ! In this situation its the policy of taking land that has special value.
      For the ratepayers is an unsustainable project financially which has serious downsides for river water quality

    • Ad 11.2

      Would be fun to see a proper defence of the project here. Even just the wider economic and social benefits.

    • One Anonymous Bloke 11.3

      “Progress” doesn’t equal “being a money-grubbing piece of shit”. You have no chance of understanding this so don’t try.

      • jcuknz 11.3.1

        I tend to take a pragmatic view on matters and believe water in the form of lakes is good ….. BUT dairy is big enough so would carefully move those wee creatures and stop any increase in the four legged ones … surely there are kinds of farming which do not polute with run-off … I’m a townie and know little about farming.
        That to me is progress and worth the effort.

    • Draco T Bastard 11.4

      Damming the river to cause even more environmental destruction isn’t ‘progress’.

      • jcuknz 11.4.1

        My solution is preserving the natural while enabling human development but I fear such common sense is lost on some. An unpoluted water source for bottling would be a valuable export earner to pay for all the luxury items a modern society seems to need … else coupled with hydro electric generation to save the wastage caused by taking power hundreds of Km from where it is not needed.

        • Draco T Bastard

          An unpoluted water source for bottling would be a valuable export earner to pay for all the luxury items a modern society seems to need …

          1. We’re going to need that water for ourselves. Potable water is rarer than gold.
          2. We can actually make all those luxury items ourselves. Our productivity is already high enough and development of our manufacturing, especially in to 3D printing, gets rid of any scale issues that the 19th century had. Even modern factories today get rid of most economies of scale that was the main drive for massive factories in the past.
          3. Proper development of the economy won’t destroy or pollute the waterways and the environment as our present system does.
          4. Our present system isn’t even economic – it uses up the scarce resources with no thought about sustainability.

          coupled with hydro electric generation to save the wastage caused by taking power hundreds of Km from where it is not needed.

          Hydro power from Te Waipounamu is transferred to Te Ika-a-Maui because there simply isn’t the necessary rivers in the north to produce enough power and because it’s simply not needed in the south ATM. To get proper efficiencies in our power grid requires that it be a national smart grid so that renewable energy that’s generated around the entire country is available where it’s needed.

        • One Anonymous Bloke

          So what?

          Cutting down all the kauri in NZ would be a great little earner, too. Farmers find it hard enough as it is. Allowing them to keep slaves would boost the economy.

          The thing is, who wants to have a bag of shit where their ethics should be? Apart from you, obviously.

  12. jcuknz 12

    Insults are poor arguments …. shows the writers character

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