Editorial: Maungatautari's real pests

12:52, May 30 2012

Hands up if you've had enough of the dispute over the Maungatautari sanctuary.

What began as an enterprising feel-good plan to protect our endangered wildlife has had the life sucked out of it by an embarrassing power struggle – essentially between Maori and Pakeha interests.

The latest is that five landowners have officially requested the pest free fence be removed from their properties. If the fence is removed from any property, there is no project.

This week a motion was put to Waikato Regional Council to stop funding the Maungatautari Ecological Island Trust. Councillors voted 8-4 against the motion but patience is getting sorely tested. Ratepayers have a right to question what is going on given they are contributing about $1 millon to the project over the next four years.

However, there should be little sympathy for councillor Jane Hennebry's stance that the project is not self-sustaining so therefore should not be funded. Paula Southgate is correct when she says the council's role is to protect biodiversity and this is what this project should do. The issue is not the value of the sanctuary, it is the dysfunctional relationship between parties involved which threatens to derail it completely.

How sad given that six years ago, when former prime minister Helen Clark visited the sanctuary, this newspaper reported glowingly on the project and its aim to end Maungatautari's days of being a "silent forest". Trust chief executive Jim Mylchreest described receiving a $5.5 millon government grant as a momentous day. "Once the mountain is pest-proof fenced and the pests eradicated, Maungatautari will protect a diverse range of New Zealand's most endangered wildlife, including more than 20 different species of birds, for the nation to experience and enjoy," he said. Now look at the project.

Treaty Settlements Minister Chris Finlayson meets disgruntled landowners on Friday. Included in their demands are an agreement that any Treaty settlement excludes giving the reserve to iwi. Good luck to him sorting that out.

The intransigence of both sides of this argument is shameful. Because of it the region suffers and so does the native wildlife the project was set up to protect. This is a tragedy. No other word for it.


Waikato Times