MfE releases draft National Policy Statement for Indigenous Biodiversity

The Ministry for the Environment has now released an exposure draft of the updated National Policy Statement for Indigenous Biodiversity (NPS-IB). This includes some changes in response to over 7,000 submissions received during consultation on the proposed NPS-IB in 2020.

The NPS-IB has a broad application, applying to most living organisms and habitats that occur naturally within New Zealand. It has a bold target of ensuring no reductions in the size of populations of indigenous species, occupancy across their natural range, the properties, functions, full range and extent of ecosystems and habitats, connectivity and buffering of ecosystems and the resilience and adaptability of ecosystems.

Some of the key changes arising from the NPS-IB include the following.

Significant Natural Areas

The mapping of SNAs has been the subject of some controversy and there has been inconsistency in approach between Councils across the country. The NPS-IB will now require Councils to identify significant indigenous biodiversity using a standardised process.

Areas identified as SNAs must then be protected though the avoidance of activities which result in specified impacts on those SNAs and the ecosystems contained within them. All other adverse effects must be managed through applying the effects management hierarchy. This provides a consenting pathway for activities where the level of effects is considered to be appropriate.

Functional or operational need

The NPS-IB also provides a consenting pathway for some activities with a particular functional or operational need to locate within a SNA and where there are no other practicable alternatives.  This enables specific infrastructure, mineral and aggregate extraction activities which provide a significant national or regional public benefit to still be undertaken.

A number of other exceptions also apply including in relation to SNAs on Maori land, geothermal SNAs and SNAs within a plantation forest.

Outside of SNAs

Outside of SNAs councils are required to maintain indigenous biodiversity by applying the effects management hierarchy to irreversible adverse effects, and through providing appropriate controls to manage other effects.  Regional Councils are also required to record areas outside of SNAs that are highly mobile fauna areas with the intention that this will help to increase protection of highly mobile fauna which are difficult to detect or only spend certain parts of the year in an area.

Taonga

The NPS-IB also introduces a process whereby territorial authorities must work together with tangata whenua to identify and protect acknowledged taonga. Local authorities are then required to change their policy statements and plans to ensure that the sustainable customary use of the taonga, in a manner consistent with the protection of that taonga, is provided for.

Restoration and increases in vegetation cover 

In addition to preventing further degradation, Councils are required to promote the restoration of indigenous biodiversity through prioritising the restoring of degraded SNAs, threatened and rare ecosystems, areas with important buffering or connectivity functions, degraded wetlands or other areas that align with national priorities for protection. This can be achieved through providing incentives and setting targets to increase indigenous vegetation cover within the region.

Timings

Councils will be required to public notify changes to their policy statements and plans to identify SNAs by 2027, and to give effect to the remainder to the NPS-IB as soon as reasonably practicable and no later than 2030. By 2032, regional councils will also be required to have completed or updated a regional biodiversity strategy.

Feedback on the above and any other aspects of the exposure draft closes on 21 July 2022.

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