The clearance of indigenous vegetation is commonly controlled by district councils through district plans, pursuant to section 31(1)(b)(iii) of the Resource Management Act 1991 (RMA). District plans often contain rules and/or sub-zones which seek to protect significant natural areas from development and require landowners to obtain a resource consent to remove indigenous vegetation.
The presente case confirms that regional councils also have the ability to control the clearance of indigenous vegetation through rules in a regional plan.
Federated Farmers of New Zealand lodged an appeal against Manawatu-Wanganui Regional Council's proposed regional plan which included: A policy that gave the regional council responsibility for developing objectives, policies and methods for establishing a region-wide approach to maintaining indigenous biological diversity; A policy allocating responsibility for rules controlling the use of land to protect significant areas of indigenous vegetation and to maintain indigenous biodiversity to the regional council; and Rules governing vegetation clearance and forestry. Federated Farmers sought a declaration that the "control of land use in respect of indigenous biological diversity is deemed to be the responsibility of territorial authorities." Federated Farmers argued that all powers given to regional councils in respect of land use are only to be found within section 30(1)(c) of the RMA which contained no power to control the uses of land for biodiversity purposes.
The Environment Court held that regional councils have the power to specify objectives, policies and methods (including rules) to control the use of land for the purpose of maintaining indigenous biological diversity pursuant to sections 30(1)(ga) and 62(1)(i) of the RMA. Consequently, there is an overlap of responsibilities for district and regional authorities in respect of indigenous biodiversity.