The RMA Quality Planning Resource

Policy statements and plans prepared under the RMA must contain objectives and policies. Whilst regional plans normally provide the focus for biodiversity objectives and policies they should also be formed within district plans and, in so doing, must give effect to regional policies and objectives, providing more local detail as necessary. Objectives and policies should be precise and measurable so that their effectiveness can be monitored (as is required by s35(2) of the Act). Objectives also need to be appropriately and sufficiently specific, providing a framework within which precise policies (and rules) can be formed.

In forming objectives and policies, councils should identify what needs to occur in order to maintain and enhance biodiversity.

To assist in preparing biodiversity objectives and policies (and in order to thus inform methods) identification of the following would be useful:

  • actual outcomes of current policy and importantly the gaps in policy and comparison with what is wanted to be achieved
  • extent and condition of the indigenous biodiversity remaining within the region or district
  • actual and potential threats and other issues affecting that biodiversity
  • opportunities for preventing biodiversity loss and promoting its recovery where it has been damaged
  • likely future patterns in land use and other economic activity, and how these patterns and activity may affect biodiversity values within the life cycle of the policy
  • national policies and other guidance about national priorities
  • underlying level of community understanding and support for indigenous biodiversity.

When preparing biodiversity policies and plans in order to help secure better implementation outcomes, the following should be considered:

  • developing plans in consultation with the consents staff to help ensure the provisions can be effectively implemented
  • preparing a plan implementation strategy
  • ‘field-testing’ policies (eg, trial application of significance criteria on actual sites using independent assessors)
  • developing guidelines and training for consents and enforcement staff
  • developing a formal checklist for planners to help them identify matters that need to be addressed for different types of applications and in different environments
  • developing consent condition templates designed to address different types of habitat and activity
  • forming or joining regional (and district) biodiversity forums to share information and ideas.

The analysis should be sufficiently detailed and comprehensive, to both provide a sound basis for the policy and methods and clearly guide subsequent decision making.

A simple set of biodiversity objectives could be developed based on the following broad principles:

  • no extinction of indigenous species from the region
  • no loss of indigenous ecosystem types
  • no loss of ecosystem mosaics and sequences
  • no reduction in area/extent of rare ecosystems (less than 5000 hectares in total nationally)
  • stabilisation of indigenous species populations
  • no significant reduction in the natural range of indigenous species across the region
  • indigenous dominance of ecosystems.

The development of specific and measurable regional policy statement objectives for biodiversity can be a difficult process. The following discussion provides background information that may assist regional councils with this.

New Zealand Biodiversity Strategy

The New Zealand Biodiversity Strategy (NZBS) provides guidance on appropriate biodiversity objectives. Goal Three of the NZBS delivers the bottom line. It is to halt the decline in New Zealand’s indigenous biodiversity. The main objectives under this goal are to:

  • “Maintain and restore a full range of remaining natural habitats and ecosystems to a healthy functioning state, enhance critically scarce habitats, and sustain the more modified ecosystems in production and urban environments; and do what else is necessary to
  • Maintain and restore viable populations of all indigenous species and subspecies across their natural range and maintain their genetic diversity.”

These general objectives may form a useful basis for councils developing their own objectives. However, they are qualitative in approach and it would be easier over time to monitor a more quantitative set of objectives. The NZBS provides a suite of desired outcomes for each habitat in relation to key issues. Many of these are more quantitative and easier to monitor. These have been summarised in table 4.

Table 4: Summary of NZBS desired outcomes by ecosystem type

 

Land

Freshwater

Coastal and marine

Habitat extent

Net gain in extent and condition.

Extent and condition of ecosystems and habitats maintained.

Habitats and ecosystems maintained in a healthy functioning state.

Habitat condition

Scarce and fragmented habitats increased in area and in better health, some modified habitats restored.

Scarce and degraded habitats increased in area and in better health.

Degraded habitats are recovering.

Legal protection

More representative range of habitats and ecosystems in legal protection on public and private land.

Intact areas protected, natural character maintained.

Representative range of marine habitats and ecosystems protected.

Pest management

Increased and more effective pest control has restored ecosystem functioning.

All freshwater ecosystems dominated by indigenous species.

Threats from pests reduced and controlled.

Pest prevention

No new pests established.

No further spread of pests and pests eradicated where necessary.

No new pests established.

Extinction

No further human-induced extinctions.

No further human-induced extinctions.

No further human-induced extinctions.

Population range

Populations of all indigenous species sustained in natural or semi-natural habitats.

   

Genetic diversity

Genetic diversity of indigenous species maintained.

   

Threatened species

Fewer threatened species require active recovery programmes.

Threatened species on their way to recovery in their natural habitats.

Rare and threatened species are recovering through protection from human activity.

Resource use

Threats to indigenous species from human activity avoided or mitigated.

Threats to freshwater biodiversity from human activity avoided or mitigated.

Threats from human activity avoided or mitigated, harvest or development sustainable.

Game species

 

Introduced game species managed to protect native species.

 

Harvest

 

Sustainable harvest of species.

Rare and threatened species protected from harvest.

Detailed consideration for formulation of regional policy statement objectives

Additional matters that might be considered when preparing regional policy statement objectives could include:

  • preventing further loss of indigenous vegetation cover from the region
  • increasing the level of legal and physical protection of ecosystems that are under-represented in extent and in degree of legal protection
  • restoring or recreating ecosystem types that have been depleted to less than 20 per cent of their known pre-human range in the region
  • restoring indigenous cover to Land Environments of New Zealand to a minimum of 20 per cent by area
  • restoring the health and functioning to a representative range of each ecosystem type
  • protecting and restoring examples of each type of ecological sequence and habitat mosaic represented in the region (eg, mountains to the sea, forest/wetland/geothermal mosaics)
  • recreating ecosystems/sequences that have been lost from the region (eg, dune to forest sequence)
  • preventing further loss of any indigenous species from the region
  • reintroducing indigenous species that have been lost from the region
  • returning indigenous species to their natural habitat
  • expanding the range of indigenous species that are in the region
  • protecting and restoring corridors and linkages, particularly those needed for different life-stages (eg, freshwater fish)
  • protecting and restoring breeding and feeding habitats for coastal bird and fish species.

When preparing objectives, the provisions of s32 of the RMA must be considered particularly with regard to the policies that might be needed to deliver the proposed objectives.

See the writing provisions for regional and district plans guidance note for detailed guidance on writing objectives and policies.