Will New Zealand allow the Coromandel Peninsula (left) to go the way of Isengard? Image credit: Sandy Austin/Flickr and New Line Cinema
In a move that could have been cribbed from Tolkien's Lord of the Rings series, the New Zealand government has introduced a proposal that would open 27 square miles of currently-protected conservation land to mining. The discussion paper, authored by Energy & Resources Minister Gerry Brownlee and Conservation Minister Kate Wilkinson, claims to offer measures to ensure the "environmentally responsible development" of New Zealand's mineral resources.
Conservationists have voiced strong opposition to the plan, citing the damage such a proposal would do to the fragile ecosystems in question and New Zealand's clean, green, image around the world.When did Saruman the Wise abandon reason for madness?
Great Barrier Island is one of the protected areas that would be opened to mining. Image credit: Wikimedia Commons
Currently, nearly 30 percent of New Zealand's landmass is protected in some way by the Department of Conservation. This, of course, is not the only reason the nation has a reputation for being environmentally conscious.
Efforts to make the country entirely carbon neutral, pass an emissions trading scheme—albeit a weak one—and establish a 10-year moratorium on coal-fired electricity plants, are just a few more examples.
So where is this new proposal coming from? Brownlee explained:
[New Zealand's] mineral resources, even excluding coal and other hydrocarbon-based minerals, are estimated to be worth approximately $194 billion.
Much of the land known to be mineral rich, the proposal explains, lies in areas protected under Schedule Four of the Crown Minerals Act, which prohibits mining activity. Still, the government is interested in exploring the extraction potential of gold, silver, gemstones and rare earth minerals including dysprosium, terbium, erbium and ytterbium.
The areas being considered for removal are small and any mining on conservation land is subject to strict environmental tests...it has been made clear that any future mining applications will be considered on a case-by-case basis and conservation and environmental management remain a key consideration.
She went on to say that, though, the proposal calls for removing protections from 7,058 hectares of land, it extends protections to an additional 12,400 hectares not currently protected.
The old world will burn in the fires of industry.
The calm of the Paparoa range could be upset by open-cast mining. Image credit: PhillipC/Flickr
This, conservations argue, is hardly a concession. Kevin Hackwell, advocacy manager for New Zealand's largest conservation organization Forest & Bird, said that the 12,400 hectares "are simply areas that have been waiting for official protection since the last review in 2008." He went on to explain:
They should not be seen as trade-offs for high-value conservation land being removed from Schedule 4 because none of the expected 12,000 hectares has significant mining potential.
A new proposal would open the Coromandel Peninsula to mining. Image credit: robertpaulyoung/Flickr
He added that, because the minerals listed in the proposal are typically found in low concentrations, open-cask mining, not lower-impact surgical mining, will be the most likely method to be used. "Open-cast mines," Hackwell said, "remove all vegetation, soil and rock above the material that is mined, sometimes leaving massive scars."
In The Fellowship of the Ring, Sauruman concedes that "against the power of Mordor there can be no victory." This thinly veiled excuse for joining the evil Sauron is ultimately proven wrong. Citizens of New Zealand have until May 4 to comment on the proposal that might make the "Land of the Long White Cloud" a bit more like the "Land of Shadow."
Read more about conservation in New Zealand:
New Zealand's Goal: First Truly Sustainable Nation
New Zealand Gets A New Emissions Trading Scheme. Before Australia
New Zealand Declares 10-Year Moratorium On Coal Fired Electrity Add-Ons
Air New Zealand Sets Sustainable Biofuels Goal for 2013