• Nick Smith

Conservation Minister Nick Smith and Rakiura Maori Lands Trust Chair Graham Lloyd today signed a historic deed of settlement and deed of covenant to protect 3,515 hectares of native forest at the Lords River on Stewart Island.

"This deal will permanently protect one of the most spectacular and unspoilt areas of New Zealand. The Lord's River is our 'Amazon'. It has stunning scenery and, because of the absence of pests like stoats and ferrets, has bountiful birdlife. This virgin forest has far more value to New Zealand conserved and managed as a National Park than being logged and chipped."

The deed involves a settlement of $10.9 million to the owners in exchange for the area being permanently covenanted and managed as National Park. A Heads of Agreement was signed in July this year, subject to confirmation by beneficial owners and final approval by Cabinet. This confirmation has occurred, enabling the deed and covenant to be signed. This forest is to be known as the Tutae Ka Wetoweto Forest, and a management plan focussing on conservation and protection will be developed by the trust with the Department of Conservation.

The Lords River was one of the blocks of land provided as economic compensation for South Island Landless Maori under the provisions of the South Island Landless Natives Act 1906 (SILNA). These forests are not protected by the normal provisions of the Forest Act requiring that any harvesting be sustainable. The issue here was to negotiate a fair settlement that would protect the forest but not undermine the provisions of the 1906 Act of Parliament.

"Today is made more special with the presence of Mrs Stewart to witness the signing of the deed. Mrs Stewart is 97 years old and brings with her three generations of owners. She was one year old when the lands were first granted to her family. She is the oldest SILNA owner and the largest owner in the block."

Dr Smith also announced that a moratorium on logging had been negotiated on a further 44 SILNA blocks. The voluntary moratorium was proposed as a mechanism to prevent immediate logging in exchange for financial help for owners.

"The SILNA forests are a hugely complex and difficult issue. They have a sorry history and were never adequate compensation for what was lost by Maori. However, we can't allow them to be clearfelled and lost forever. The Lord's River agreement and the solid progress on the moratorium bodes well for a permanent and lasting solution to this thorny problem."