The recently reported disagreement between the Otago Regional Council and Fish and Game over the resource consent for a 60 hectare wetland restoration project being undertaken by Fish and Game is deeply worrying in the context of regional wetland restoration efforts. The decision by the Otago Regional Council to recommend declining the application coupled with the removal of Fish and Game as a statutory “affected party” appears likely to be settled by the organisation who can produce the best dressed legal argument in the Environment Court. That’s hardly conducive to collegiate thinking at a statutory, industry or community level for the betterment of wetland and water resources currently under intense pressure in Otago and throughout New Zealand.
The environment is not a static entity, it moves and responds to both positive and negative forces that are brought to bear upon it through natural and man-made activities. That means having flexibility in the restorative and protective responses that agencies bring to those changes and developing a wider understanding for their benefit. This is where both local government and agencies struggle at times, because they forget to forgo their institutional and statutory loyalties for a broader “bigger picture” outlook. Instead it produces a steady stream of fighting talk that is counter-productive when both organisations share similar visions for wetland and water management. It also raises the issue of local government planning documents, that with all the best intentions in the world should act as a broad vision for resource management, but not a definitive view.
The flexibility of the environment and nature often undermines the premises within planning documents. It’s not about defending an environmental plan or challenging that plan at any cost. Rather, it’s about consultative and innovative thinking that adds value to a resource plan’s wider vision for the best possible environmental outcome. That type of flexible thinking helps to provide coherent and inclusive leadership from local government and agencies and gives communities and industry confidence in the roles that both are playing in resource management matters.
The question now is whether Fish and Game and the Otago Regional Council can put aside their institutional briefs and work together in finding a workable approach to this issue outside of the courtroom. Fish and Game have already called for a collaborative approach over the proposed changes to the water quality rules found in the Otago Regional Council’s Water Plan change. That is a positive first step, as clearly, both organisations have passion for their roles, and speak the same language. Unfortunately, that language needs to be to one another, rather than past each other.