The Whitewater NZ Conservation Strategy seeks to provide guidance on how Whitewater NZ will respond in order to protect the recreational amenity that kayaker's value. With significant conservation challenges ahead, we need to prioritise our efforts towards the rivers of most value to kayakers.
Why a Conservation Strategy?
Back in 2008 the prospects for NZ rivers looked bleak. Whitewater NZ published the "Black Issue" of NZ Canoeing outlining direct challenges to whitewater (Kaituna, Nevis, Waitaha, Mokihinui, Matiri, Matakitaki, Glenroy, Mokau to name just a few) and proposed changes to legislation favouring development over conservation.
The (then) NZRCA executive recognised that different times may dictate a different approach and so the Conservation Strategy was born. The document sets out some guidelines as to how the Whitewater NZ is likely to act in the face of this onslaught. It's a reasonably formal document because the audience it is intended for includes all our key stakeholders - developers, policy makers, allied environment and recreational organisations as well as paddlers.
The document is intended to be updated over time as the challenges faced by Whitewater NZ evolve. For example, water quality is a more pressing issue than previously, and many of the original proposals have been shelved due to economic considerations.
Our thanks go to Duncan Catanach, Tony Ward-Holmes, Graeme Wilson, Doug Rankin, Debbie Bloxham, and Zak Shaw for their contributions in producing this important document.
What's the big picture message of the draft Conservation Strategy?
Our aim is to protect the river sections, catchments and regions that paddlers value most (i.e., have the most whitewater amenity value) and get comprehensive and appropriate mitigation for rivers if we can't get protection.
We believe that a consultative and strategic approach is most likely to result in our aim being achieved. We want to consult with paddlers to make sure our assessment of what is valued is correct. We want to consult early with developers so that they understand what we value and thus stay clear of those rivers and/or design schemes that take into account kayaker's values.
It is not credible or sensible to oppose every hydro or irrigation scheme. We may decide (usually after significant deliberation) to support or not oppose schemes on river sections of lower whitewater amenity value if there is a strategic reason for doing so and if comprehensive and appropriate mitigation can be provided for any adverse effects on the values for which the river section is held. If the right mitgation isn't forthcoming we will oppose the scheme. We will oppose policy or law changes that make it less likely that the whitewater amenity value is fully considered or that limits our ability to engage in decision-making processes around rivers.
What does the Conservation Strategy say about how rivers are valued?
The conservation strategy does not say this particular river is valued more than that - it only gives some guidance into thinking about why a river may be valued by whitewater paddlers and how to describe it to others.
Paddlers are the experts on whitewater amenity value. Different paddlers also value different things. There is no magic formula but there are some attributes that are likely to contribute to a higher whitewater amenity value being placed on a section. These attributes include (in no relative order of importance) whitewater value, landscape value, use value, scarcity value and status value.
Importantly, we've said that you can't think about a river section in isolation from other sections in the catchment or other rivers in the region, nationally or internationally. For instance, if a river section has features that are scarce nationally or internationally, then all other things being equal, that will increase the value placed on that river section.