Conservation land should be mined for minerals, says Conservation Minister Tim Groser, who is calling for the "emotional hysteria" over such a suggestion to stop.
OPINION: Groser said the Government was reviewing technical procedures under schedule four of the Crown Minerals Act, which banned some mining, and no decisions had been made.
But the Government was elected on a platform to balance New Zealand's long-term economic interests, and mining on conservation land was already happening, he said.
"If you can extract wealth from that [conservation land], that's what we should do."
Energy and Resources Minister Gerry Brownlee said this week he wanted greater access to valuable mineral deposits in the conservation estate.
Brownlee's comments provoked outrage from politicians and environmentalists but Groser, who is also Trade Minister, said everyone should "just calm down".
Tourism was the the most important industry to the conservation estate and that would not change, Groser said.
"When words like `rape' and `pillage' come out, people should just take a deep breath," he said.
"Mining at its worst is dreadful, but mining in a modern, technological way can have a negligible effect."
Mining could be done in "small, discrete areas", and deals could be struck to boost pest control and preserve new areas of forest, he said.
A good example of a "win-win" was the Pike River coal mine, near Greymouth, he said.
Last year, the Department of Conservation (DOC) awarded Pike River a certificate recognising its environmental consideration in establishing the mine.
Consultant geologist Richard Barker, a branch member of the Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy, said in a March 2008 report that New Zealand metallic minerals and lignite had an in-ground value of $240 billion.
Tourism Industry Association New Zealand chief executive Tim Cossar said opening up conservation land to mining interests could put New Zealand's $20 billion tourism industry at risk.
Green Party conservation spokeswoman Metiria Turei called on communities to defend local sites from "pillage".
Sites at risk included the Coromandel, Paparoa National Park, Kahurangi National Park, Aspiring National Park, Waituna Lagoon and the Awarua Wetlands.
"These are some of the most beautiful places in our country," she said.
"To allow mining in them is beyond an outrage we need to protect them for our children and future generations."
Groser said the standard consultation provisions of the Resource Management Act would apply.
However, his office later confirmed DOC controlled only access to mining sites, while the Minister of Energy and Resources granted permits to prospect, explore or mine.
Environment and Conservation Organisations spokesman Barry Weeber said miners enjoyed special status and were not subject to the usual provisions that applied to other activities on conservation land.
The only real safeguards were the prohibitions on surface activity under the fourth schedule of the Crown Minerals Act, which did not prevent mining in conservation parks, marine mammal sanctuaries, or in world heritage areas.
- The Press
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