The Environment Court has upheld an Environment Waikato decision to decline an application by Crown Forestry to harvest pine trees in Waiuku Forest.
The court’s decision was reported to Environment Waikato’s Regulatory Committee in Hamilton this week.
Waiuku Forest is part of a large block of land confiscated from Maori in 1864 following the land wars. Certain parts of the block were returned to Maori in 1865, including four historical waahi tapu areas. However they were later reclaimed for sand dune stabilisation and state forests purposes.
Crown Forestry (the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry) lodged an application with Environment Waikato to harvest up to 305 hectares of plantation forestry within Waiuku Forest in December 2003.
The application was publicly notified on January 15, 2004. Submissions were lodged by the Auckland/Waikato Fish and Game Council and Ngati Te Ata.
Fish and Game was concerned the spraying of post-harvest vegetation could remove food sources for game birds.
Ngati Te Ata opposed the application on the basis it contravened the Regional Plan and certain sections of the Resource Management Act.
After a hearing on May 24, 2004, Environment Waikato declined the consent application on the basis it was not able to grant the consent in a manner which adequately fulfilled several fundamental requirements of the RMA 1991, specifically Part II matters 5, 6(e) and 7(a).
The Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry then lodged an appeal with the Environment Court.
A hearing was held over four days this June before Judge Sheppard. On October 17, the court released its decision to decline the consent application, confirming Environment Waikato’s initial decision.
The court confirmed the status of the site as waahi tapu but concluded that protocols proposed would not be adequate to protect any physical remains of ancestral burials, or to protect for the intangible waahi tapu values of those areas.
In summarising its decision the court noted:
“The extent to which the removal of trees from the four blocks would contribute to enabling people and communities to provide for their economic well-being and of their safety, and would sustain the potential of the forest to meet the reasonably foreseeable needs of future generations would be relatively slight: and
The extent to which the disturbance of soil associated with the removal of trees would hinder the people and community of Ngati Te Ata from providing for their cultural well-being would be relatively considerable.”