Ministers approve permits to move Mt Augustus snailsConservation
Conservation Minister Chris Carter and Associate Minister of Energy Harry Duynhoven have approved permits under the Wildlife Act to enable a population of Powelliphanta Augustus snails to be moved from the Mt Augustus ridgeline on the West Coast.
But Solid Energy New Zealand must implement an intensive mitigation package to preserve the snails before it can commence mining in the area.
"This decision has been an exceptionally difficult one to make because the issues involved are finely balanced," Mr Carter said today.
"At the heart of this decision are two questions. Should a population of very rare and apparently very localised snails be moved out of most of their known habitat? And if not, is the risk of moving the snails sufficiently high to halt Solid Energy's mining plans on the Mount Augustus ridgeline?
"A great deal of advice has been considered on these matters. It is fair to say the scientific information on Powelliphanta Augustus is heavily contested. There are a large number of unknowns, risks and scientific arguments around key aspects of the species, and what will happen if they are moved.
"The Department of Conservation's advice is that given all the unknowns if a decision were made purely in the interest of the snails, they would be left alone and mining of the ridgeline would not take place. We respect this advice.
"However, as ministers we have a legal responsibility to consider more than just the welfare of the snails," Mr Carter said.
"We are also required to have regard to the Coal Mines Act, and this piece of legislation demands that we consider the economic benefits that flow from the efficient development and use of New Zealand's coal resources.
"The snail habitat is on land owned by Solid Energy that has been specifically set aside for mining. The land contains a coal resource of considerable value to the West Coast region and the nation.
"In making our decision, we have had to weigh the economic benefits of accessing this coal resource with the potential risk of detriment to the snails. In doing so we have taken account of the extent to which stringent conditions may assist in the protection of Powelliphanta Augustus.
"On balance, we have decided to allow the snails to be moved. But we are requiring a larger mitigation package than originally offered by Solid Energy."
Solid Energy will pay for:
- The relocation by hand of up to 250 snails from the proposed mining site;
- The establishment of an expanded new habitat for the snails that is as close as can reasonably be achieved to the old habitat, and will not be affected by mining;
- The protection of this area with intensive predator control and a predator proof fence;
- The direct transfer of the existing snail habitat to another area that will not be affected by mining;
- The protection of an expanded proportion of the existing snail habitat that will not be mined, and intensive predator control across this area;
- The development of a captive management programme for the snails; and
- The conducting of a wider survey of the surrounding environment to locate other possible areas of habitat for Powelliphanta Augustus.
"This comprehensive package will provide at least three opportunities to protect the snails, and the implementation of it will be carefully monitored and enforced," Mr Carter said.
"None of these measures are perfect on their own but taken together they provide us with sufficient confidence that the snails will be preserved. This is particularly so given much of the existing habitat for Powelliphanta Augustus has already been destroyed, and surrounding mining activity has degraded what is left.
"We are confident this is the best decision under the law, and fairly balances the competing interests at stake."