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Ngapunatoru Ice Plateau heli landings illegal

The Ngapunatoru Ice Plateau (saddle to left) where DOC consented 80 helicopter landings a day. Photo: Pat Holland

The Department of Conservation’s decision to allow a massive number of helicopter landings on a remote Fiordland Glacier in 2016 has been declared “contrary to law” by the Ombudsman Leo Donnelly.

Donnelly had investigated DOC’s decision to allow 80 helicopter landings a day on the remote Ngapunatoru Ice Plateau, near Milford Sound, at the behest of the Federated Mountain Clubs. He found the decision breached the Fiordland National Park Management Plan.

DOC had increased the allowed number of landings from 10 to 80 each day and had suggested it was part of a research trial. Donnelly ordered DOC to end the  trial and cancel the extra landings. The Department of Conservation will also be required to report regularly on how it rolls back the allowed number of helicopter landings to an acceptable level, ahead of a new park plan being consulted on.

“This is a victory for the outdoor community, for the rule of law on public land, and for the intrinsic values of Fiordland,” FMC president Peter Wilson said. “The ‘Japanese whaling’ style research ‘trial’ ends.

“FMC always knew that DOC was wrong in granting the extra landings, but it is satisfying to have it declared unlawful today. We worked hard on behalf of our members to get this result”.

“National park management plans mean what they say and say what they mean,” Wilson said, adding that they “are not open for abuse by the Department in response to pressure from the previous government and the tourism industry.”

This is the second ruling from the Ombudsman in recent years that has criticised DOC’s decision-making. In 2015, Ombudsman Professor Ron Paterson described DOC’s decision to increase the daily number of people Routeburn Track concessionaires could guide on the Great Walk as “nonsense on stilts”.

DOC has said it will implement the findings of the Ombudsman’s report.