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Stewardship land could be ‘open for business’

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Minister for Regional Economic Development Shane Jones has said stewardship land will be open for business if New Zealand First is in a decision-making position after the election, RNZ reports.

The comments came during a video conference with West Coast mayors and councillors. 

Jones said the conservation land “was never meant to be treated as part of the core DOC estate” and, if re-elected, New Zealand First would be “opening up that stewardship land to people who can set up sustainable extractive businesses and employ others”.

Stewardship land makes up about a third of DOC land and is a kind of holding pen for conservation land that is yet to be assessed for its values and it has the weakest level of protection.

In 2013, an investigation by the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment found large areas of stewardship land had high conservation value and recommended DOC assess and reclassify the land.

In response, Federated Mountain Clubs (FMC) launched its Forgotten Lands Campaign to promote the reclassification of the land, but DOC’s progress has so far been sluggish – although last year 64,000ha of stewardship land was reclassified and added to Kahurangi National Park. In November, FMC relaunched its campaign, dedicating an edition of its Backcountry Magazine to the issue, highlighting huge areas of the DOC estate with a low level of protection.

Job losses mount in tourism 

Job losses in the tourism industry continue to climb, with many outdoor businesses closing their doors.

Last week, Skyline made more than 600 staff redundant, while Ngai Tahu Tourism confirmed 309 job losses, including 50 jobs in Franz Josef, and the Hermitage Hotel at Mt Cook confirmed it would cut 157 jobs.

Stuff reports that wildlife centres are also struggling as revenue has plummeted due to a lack of visitors. Zealandia in Wellington was losing hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue and has set up a Give-a-little page for donations.

However, Pūkaha National Wildlife Centre at Mt Bruce near Masterton is hoping for a boost in visitors – it’s building a 40-bed accommodation and education centre after getting a $2.5m grant from the government’s Provincial Growth Fund. The $4.5m project is expected to take 18 months to complete and boost visitor revenue. It comes after five kiwi were killed at the 942ha sanctuary following a halt in trapping during the Level 4 lockdown.

A controversial proposal to encourage tourists to the West Coast has also resurfaced, the Otago Daily Times reports. A group promoting a road linking Milford Sound and Haast says it’s the ideal time to build it to boost tourism. The 136km road would run down the Hollyford Valley, through Fiordland National Park and World Heritage Area.

Meanwhile, the government has funded 160 jobs in conservation and biosecurity for people who’ve been made redundant during the lockdown.

The work is focused on pest control, particularly on wilding pines in Craigieburn Forest Park and the Mackenzie Basin, but also includes track maintenance.

Debate begins on future of tourism

The closure of international tourism has led to a debate about how the industry can rebuild while avoiding the issues of crowding and waste from the tourism boom over recent years.

Last month, the government announced it’s working with DOC and other stakeholders to ‘reimagine’ tourism in a post-Covid world.

Prior to Covid-19, the industry had been criticised for failing to manage rapid growth – the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment released a report in December criticising the government’s hands-off approach to the industry and its environmental impact.

Last week, FMC president, Jan Finlayson, told Newsroom she is concerned the government’s review will be hijacked by Tourism NZ and it will be ‘back to business as usual, as fast as possible’. She called for conservation groups to have a greater role in managing tourism.

Other ideas have also surfaced – a petition calling for a ban on overseas freedom campers was launched, but was later withdrawn after the organiser claimed she was threatened.

Survey on Arthur’s Pass ‘enhancement’

DOC has commissioned a company to produce a ‘Development and Investment Framework’ for Arthur’s Pass National Park, FMC reports, and the company is running a survey of park users. According to its website, Australian company Stafford Strategy specialises in ‘tourism development and marketing’, but the survey has been criticised on FMC’s Facebook page for its development focus and leading questions. The survey closes on May 16.

5G comes to Everest

Huawei has announced it has installed a new 5G mobile network 6500m up Mt Everest, bringing coverage to the summit of the mountain. The company has installed three stations on the Tibetan side of the mountain for the 60th anniversary of the first Chinese ascent of Everest from the north. The 5G coverage will also help with a project to re-measure the height of Everest

While cell phone reception has never been clearer on Everest, the air has also never been clearer – some villages in India have been able to see the mountain for the first time in decades due to a drop in pollution during the Covid-19 lockdown.

This week’s great read

New Zealand Geographic has published an excellent feature on search and rescue, detailing the rescue of a 27-year-old climber who became trapped on Mt Aspiring in bad weather. It gives an in-depth look on what it’s like to be on both sides of a rescue mission.

There has also been a surge of great videos of the Te Araroa Trail over the past month, as hundreds of hikers found themselves thrust into lockdown upon completing the trail.

This heartwarming video by a Dutch couple gives a fantastic overview of the trail. This slightly nauseating trail cam video condenses the entire walk into seven minutes. But there have been hours of footage on the TA uploaded to YouTube in the past six weeks – go down the rabbit hole.