Ecological Areas are not for Flooding: Conservation Organisations Warn off Energy Minister
Suggestions by Energy Minister Pete Hodgson that the Conservation Act should be amended to allow conservation areas to be made available for other purposes were rejected with impatience and anger today by the chair of the Environment and Conservation Organisations of NZ, ECO, Cath Wallace.
Energy Minister Pete Hodgson is reported to want to get changes to the Conservation Act to allow the forests in the Card Creek, Fraser Creek, Clear Creek and Stillwater Creek catchments in the Ecological Area south of the Grey River and west of the Arnold River to be drowned for a hydro dam.
TrustPower Generation and local councils want a major expansion of the small hydro generation on the Arnold River of 3 megawatts to 62 megawatts. They want to swap the Ecological Area forests for forests that the Department of Conservation judges to have significantly lesser ecological values in the Arnold Siding/ Mt Buckley area at the confluence of the Arnold and Grey Rivers.
“The proposal for the removal of forests from the Conservation Estate to allow them to be flooded by a proposed hydro dam would open the ways to progressive takings from the conservation estate and losses of environmental quality nationally.
“The protection of forests and other areas is hard won by many people in New Zealand working for their protection. We are not about to allow these forests to be drowned, says Cath Wallace, co-chair of ECO. “The proposal to flood protected forests in the Omoto Ecological Area east of the Kaiata Range south of the Grey River and West of the Arnold River to allow the generation of power to supply a hard rock gold mine is absurdly unsustainable in energy and greenhouse terms as well as destroying forest and freshwater life.
“The Prime Minister will be embarrassed by the Energy Minister lending himself to such plans when she has just been telling the world at Johannesburg that we are leaders in sustainability.
“Eating away at protected forests – even with swaps – simply leads to a net loss of native forest for New Zealand. Changes to the Conservation Act to allow this eating away at forests are not acceptable. Areas not at risk are swapped for protected areas that are then sacrificed for various purposes. This is a net loss to New Zealand, not a “net conservation benefit”, as the spin-doctors would have it.
“The immediate project is unsustainable both for its intended use of power in mining, for the greenhouse gases emitted for the concrete construction and for the flooding of the forests which will not only prevent them from storing carbon but will cause methane emissions. On top of that we have the loss of the Ecological Area environmental values and the rich birdlife which was one of the reasons that they were protected.
“The Energy Minister needs to heed the advice of the Department of Conservation and back off and re-think. Energy problems need to be tackled from the demand side not the supply side – and anyway the lines into the area have been upgraded so power can be brought there from the national grid if it is really needed.
CountryLife, Radio New Zealand, Friday and Saturday 13th and 14 September 2002.
References for further information: TrustPower Generation: Dobson Hydro Scheme, Newsletter No 2 (date c early 2000)
Dept of Conservation (Nov 2001) “Assessment of the Conservation Values of the Proposed Inundation Area, TrustPower Arnold power scheme upgrade, West Coast Conservancy, Nov 2001.
Both areas of forest have been modified and are a mix of old growth forest, regenerating forest and some gorse but the area with Ecological Area designation is clearly superior according to DoC’s own report. The areas that would be drowned include rimu, kahikatea, matai, kamahi, with coprosma and ferns with “dense podocarp regeneration” of modified areas and rich birdlife, particularly kereru (wood pigeons). The threatened freshwater fish, shortjawed and giant kokopu, one of the reasons for the original protection, would be affected. Two hundred and fifty four ha of moderate-well drained valley floor native forest ecosystem would be drowned but the area for exchange has only 2.5ha of this ecotype.