Thursday, December 15, 2011

Protecting the Mackenzie Country

In 2009, the Mackenzie District Council issued Plan Change 13, which sought increased protection for the area's natural environment by classifying it as an outstanding natural landscape (which has legal consequences under the RMA). The plan change was watered down after public consultation, but that wasn't good enough for the region's farmers, who wanted any suggestion of natural landscape values (which might prevent them irrigating and factory farming) expunged. So, they appealed to the Environment Court - which, after 18 months, has delivered them and the Council a stinging rebuke by restoring the original classification:

Environment Court judge Jon Jackson's 170-page interim decision, released yesterday, suggested the commissioners' decision did not go far enough.

The Mackenzie Basin as a whole was "an outstanding natural landscape", rather than an area which features outstanding landscapes, as suggested by the hearings commissioners, he said.

Judge Jackson was also concerned the plan change "left hanging" several important issues about the basin's environment – including land-use intensification and wilding pine control.

"Not only are there matters of national importance involved, but several of the core elements of sustainable management," he said.

"If there is only one foreseeable, in fact, obvious, need for everyone, it is that they wish to experience the outstanding natural landscape and foreground to Aoraki-Mt Cook."

This isn't over yet; the Council can still appeal, as potentially could the various farmers who tried to weaken protections. But it significantly shifts the baseline towards protection and away from intensive farming in the Mackenzie. And hopefully that shift will continue.