Forest & Bird to defend New Zealand’s conservation land in the Supreme Court

Environmental organisation Forest & Bird will argue in New Zealand’s highest court that specially protected conservation land belongs to New Zealanders and to nature, and can’t be traded away for commercial development.

Forest & Bird is appearing in the Supreme Court to defend the Court of Appeal’s 2016 decision that the Department of Conservation’s planned land swap enabling the Ruataniwha dam was illegal.

The case is being brought by Conservation Minister Maggie Barry alongside the dam company, Hawke’s Bay Regional Investment Company (HBRIC).

“The Court of Appeal held that the Minister can’t treat public conservation land as if there were a 'revolving door' between protected and not protected,” says Forest & Bird Chief Executive Kevin Hague.

“If this land swap is allowed to go ahead, it will set a legal precedent for over a million hectares of specially protected conservation land, creating the possibility that these areas can be reclassified and destroyed,” says Mr Hague.

The Department of Conservation has previously accepted that the 22 hectares of land that would be flooded to create New Zealand’s largest irrigation dam, has high conservation values. Some of the important native species and habitats known to exist within the dam's footprint include long tail bats, fernbird, New Zealand falcon, and rare wetlands.

"This case is about New Zealand’s specially protected conservation areas, the species and ecosystems that inhabit them, and whether they’re safe from development for private gain," says Mr Hague.

The case is set down for two days in the Supreme Court in Wellington, beginning Monday 27 February at 10am.