Ecological areas – premier protected natural areas
- School of Forestry, University of Canterbury, Private Bag 4800, Christchurch 8140, New Zealand
- Department of Conservation, Private Bag 701, Hokitika, New Zealand
- Current address: 115A Akaroa Drive, Maupuia, Wellington 6022, New Zealand
The establishment of ecological areas, a network of predominantly forest reserves, was initiated by the former New Zealand Forest Service (NZFS) in the 1970s within the context of large-scale utilisation and exotic conversion proposals for indigenous State forest lands on the West Coast and in Southland. Unlike other types of protected natural area, ecological areas were primarily selected to be representative of the natural features within ecological districts. Although 112 ecological areas covering 344 753 ha (1.29% of New Zealand’s land area) have now been established, their geographic distribution is uneven with disproportionately large numbers in the West Coast, Waikato and East Coast Bay of Plenty Department of Conservation conservancies. While the intent of the NZFS in gazetting ecological areas was that they would receive the highest level of protection possible, they have not been afforded this level of protection under the Conservation Act 1987 and the Crown Minerals Act 1991, or under conservation management strategies. The identification and protection of ecological areas has not extended beyond former State forest land. With two exceptions, all ecological areas are open to mining despite their high values. Ecological areas are on a par with national parks in terms of their ecological values and they warrant the highest level of protection and management. Specific actions to recognise the special value of ecological areas in legislation, policy and management are recommended.