Commission calls to protect access on stewardship land

The Commission wants to help the Department of Conservation (DOC) protect public access when it reclassifies stewardship land. 

Stewardship land is land that was allocated to DOC when it was formed in 1987. It includes former state forests and Crown land considered to have conservation value. There are over 3,000 parcels of stewardship land of varying sizes across New Zealand — over 2.7 million hectares or 9% of New Zealand’s total land area. Many of these areas are home to threatened species and high-priority ecosystems. Reclassifying stewardship land can raise the level of protection for the land where needed. 

The Department of Conservation has been seeking people’s views on improving the legal process for reclassifying and disposing of stewardship land.  

That process usually involves surveying the land, scientific analysis of the species and ecosystems present, working in partnership with tangata whenua and consulting with the public to understand and protect conservation values 

That’s a complex and slow task, so most stewardship land has not yet been reclassified, despite an intention to do so since 1987. Because of this, people can often be uncertain about the status of stewardship land. 

In our submission on reclassifying stewardship land, the Commission supports developing a more efficient process for reclassification.   

However, we expect the new process to consider future public access to the whenua. For example, the review of every parcel of stewardship land needs to consider where current public access, including tracks and trails, is needed, or may be lost if the land were to become privately owned, where rivers or coastlines may erode, where slips could occur, where new recreational activities could seek access, and so on.   

The reclassification process must protect conservation values, including public access and recreational enjoyment to and through the whenua, natural linkages and enduring practical access to public conservation lands and waters, rivers, lakes or the coast. The commission believes public interest in access and links across the country, no matter how small or remote, outweighs any case for permanent loss of that access. 

New legislation also must not weaken New Zealand’s commitment to conservation values and purposes, now and for future generations.