Do people come before nature? It’s an age-old issue which comes into sharp focus as New Zealand grapples with climate change, large scale farming practices and urban expansion.
I’m a staunch supporter of maintaining and improving our environment – but like most Kiwis, I want to see some balance that gives some consideration to people as well as nature.
My organisation represents more than a thousand quarries dotted in every city and settlement across our nation. They need to be local or the cost of what they produce goes through the roof not to mention diesel emissions. Yet we are constantly having to put our case to maintain local supply even though no home or road can be built without our rock, stone and sand.
Now, we face the doomsday prophets in some environmental groups putting pressure on the Government to support a Green Party bill which would ban all quarrying on any piece of conservation land, no matter what it’s conservation value.
This bill, so vehemently supported by Forest and Bird and other groups, would stop the extraction of 20-32% of New Zealand’s future hard rock reserves which are situated on the Department of Conservation (DOC) estate.
We are not talking national parks. Most the rock reserves sit in stewardship land that has much lower conservation values. If these reserves are roped off in perpetuity, it will halt the ambitions of this and future governments to resolve our woeful national infrastructure deficit.
These are the roads, rail corridors and cycle tracks we variously use, as well as the water infrastructure we all demand to give us safe drinking water and which will ensure sewage and stormwater doesn’t taint it; not to mention the 250 tonnes of aggregate required for every new home.
Some of that aggregate is effectively a renewable resource when made from river-sourced stone. If insufficient stone is taken out, flooding risks increase as the Ashburton district discovered last year.
Of course, that requires balanced decisions, not carte blanche. But as well as pushing for no extraction anywhere on the whole conservation estate, Forest and Bird has another campaign – Making Room for the River. This suggests rivers be allowed more space to run their natural course. Supposedly, this would protect communities from the impacts of climate change but really its focus is on the benefits to the river rather than those who live and farm near them.
If such an approach included removing aggregate to help reduce flood risks, it would have merit but Forest and Bird often opposes gravel extraction and puts the interests of flora and fauna first (floods hit these too).
Currently, the extraction of aggregates on DOC land contributes to flood mitigation as well as river restoration, bridge protection and building and maintain tracks, carparks and huts in national parks and on other DOC land.
We have the example of DOC choosing the extraction of rock and gravel from conservation land adjoining the Waiho River near Franz Josef Glacier to help protect its walking tracks. This sensible and pragmatic decision saved DOC a four-fold amount and considerable carbon emissions from the alternative of trucking material a long distance from an existing quarry. It would be halted by the Green Party bill.
Forest and Bird’s picture of mass destruction from extractive activities such as quarrying ignores the fact they and their 80,000 members live in houses, travel on roads and occasionally may want a sand pit for their children.
Quarries contribute to local pest eradication, wetland development, environmental improvements and meeting or exceeding council and community requirements to have no net loss in biodiversity.
By supporting a blanket ban on access to any conservation land for rock sources, Forest & Bird is ignoring often small family or iwi-owned quarry businesses which provide rural communities with materials for affordable housing, road repairs and climate change mitigation.
Let’s have a balance between people and nature.
-Wayne Scott is the CEO of the Aggregate and Quarry Association.