New Zealand State Coal Company Plans to Mine Kiwi Habitat

CHRISTCHURCH, New Zealand, July 12, 2004 (ENS) - New Zealand's largest conservation organization today announced its intention to appeal the decision by local councils to permit an open pit coal mine in an unprotected wild area inhabited by a subspecies of New Zealand's vanishing national bird, the kiwi.

The Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society said it will appeal to the Environment Court decisions by the West Coast Regional Council and the Buller District Council to give the go-ahead to "a destructive and polluting open coal mine near Westport."

The Cypress Opencast Mine is planned by Solid Energy Coals of New Zealand, a state-owned enterprise, which operates as a commercial company but with only one shareholder, the New Zealand government.

"If the Cypress coal mine is allowed to go ahead, it will destroy hundreds of hectares of red tussock grasslands, wetlands, shrublands and beech forest," said Forest and Bird Field Officer Tony Lockwood. "This is prime habitat for great spotted kiwi and an endangered giant snail species."


The most ancient of New Zealand's birds, the flightless kiwi is related to the ostrich and the emu. (Photo courtesy NZ Department of Conservation)
The mine is proposed for the Upper Waimangaroa Valley, between Denniston and Granity in the Buller District of the West Coast. "Even a small mine centred in the Upper Waimangaroa would require access roads and a range of other facilities that would devastate the core of this remarkable area," says Forest and Bird.

Solid Energy’s Chief Operating Officer Barry Bragg said the decision recognized the extensive consultation and detailed studies that had been carried out over the last three years in developing final proposals for the mine.

“We stand by and will deliver on the undertaking we made at the resource consent hearing," Bragg said. "The Cypress Opencast Mine will be operated ‘from day one in accordance with environmental best practice, utilizing best practice mine management and rehabilitation procedures and methods.”

But numbers of great spotted kiwi are dwindling. In 1998, there were about 11,000 pairs, and they are down to around 17,000 adults today. Great spotted kiwi prefer wet, mossy, sub-alpine vegetation. They live in three discrete population areas, often at high altitudes. One group is found in Northwest Nelson to the Buller River near where the new mine is planned.

The conservationists say the Cypress Opencast Mine would result in a total disturbed area of about 400 rugby fields. This involves the removal of native beech forest and red tussock grassland for two opencast pits covering 105 hectares and over another 100 hectares for disposal of overburden, haul roads, office and workshop space.


The Buller River in the Upper Waimangaroa Valley (Photo courtesy Forest and Bird)
Diversion of natural creeks and streams around the mine site would result, says Forest and Bird, as well as discharge of poorly treated mine water to St. Pats Stream. "Discharge conditions do not meet internationally accepted standards for water quality," the organization says.

And most disturbing to the conservationists, the mine would destroy habitat of the great spotted kiwi and endangered giant land snail.

The company says the kiwi will not suffer. Solid Energy will relocate 10 great spotted kiwi from the mine site and undertake intensive predator control in a 1,000 hectare area of conservation estate near the mine, said Bragg.

The councils said that this would “properly and adequately mitigate against the impact of the activity on the kiwi."

But Lockwood of Forest and Bird is not satisfied with that assurance. "The proposed mine would further pollute the Mangatini Stream and Ngakawau Rivers that already run black from the effects of operations at the nearby Stockton coal mine," he said.

"It is extraordinary that Solid Energy is allowed to open a new mine in the upper Waimangaroa Valley given the massive destruction and pollution from its existing mine at Stockton," he said.

The management of Solid Energy said it noted criticisms made by submitters of the past performance of Solid Energy particularly in the operation of the Stockton Opencast Mine, although these "could not be properly considered in the context of the Cypress application."

Lockwood says the New Zealand government is acting in a contradictory manner by approving the open coal mine while professing to be taking action to limit climate change.

"At the same time as the government is implementing international obligations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through the Kyoto agreement and spending millions of dollars a year through the Department of Conservation to halt the decline in New Zealand's biodiversity, one of its own companies plans to open up a massive new opencast coal mine and destroy prime kiwi habitat," Lockwood said.


Solid Energy coal miners from the Stockton Opencast Mine (Photo courtesy Solid Energy)
Solid Energy says that most of the coal that comes from the Cypress Mine is expected to be exported for use in steel manufacturing. "Approximately fice million tons of coal would be mined over the mine’s expected 10 year life." The company promises that rehabilitation of the site will be progressively carried out over the life of the mine.

Forest and Bird calls the mine site "a strikingly beautiful area with unique landforms and rare plant communities surrounded by conservation lands."

The only reason the valley itself has not been protected, in spite of repeated recommendations that it should be, is because of very strong lobbying by the coal mining industry in the past, the conservation group says. Students and their supporters camped in the area at Easter to protest the proposal to mine the area.

"The proposed mine is contrary to the government's objectives of saving threatened plants and animals and addressing climate change," Lockwood said.