• Nick Smith

Conservation Minister Nick Smith today said Government's $10.9 million investment in the protection of 3300 ha of virgin indigenous forest on Stewart Island was a sound strategic investment that would ensure the survival of this special place for the enjoyment of all New Zealanders.

"The Nga Whenua Rahui and Nature Heritage Funds were established by the National Government to protect significant natural areas in private ownership. Forest
and Bird's criticism of the Lords River deal is bizarre. It seems that Forest and Bird believe that Maori land is not private land. This is an extraordinary claim to make in 1999 and reflects a colonial attitude to Maori property. The Lords River deal is an appropriate and proper use of Government funding. It is a priority because it meets the criteria of the funds, and also achieves the wider objectives of settling Treaty grievances and provides a lead for the conservation of other Maori owned indigenous forests."

The Government recognised that parts of the deal involved settlement of Treaty claims and forestry issues and these have been funded quite separately. The Government has allocated additional funds to help with the cost. The funds have previously been used to protect the Waitutu Forest.

"The Lords River deal is particularly large but is very significant. It is one of New Zealand's last wildernesses and has extraordinarily high conservation
values. While the $10.9 million price is high, some conservation groups advocated that we should pay $16 million for the protection of the Block.

Whenever these funds are used for large purchases, they come under pressure in the short term. The funds have achieved outstanding results in protecting
nearly a quarter of a million hectares of private land in less than six years.

I am satisfied that the good work of both funds will be able to continue well into the future. Bids for funding have been growing over the years and Government is constantly reviewing this, and other methods, to assist private landowners to conserve the natural heritage on their land."