Feds fired up over fires

Federated Farmers wants to baa DOC from the high country because sheep do a better job:

The fire risk on Department of Conservation-managed land is being mismanaged and neglected, and needs urgent review, Federated Farmers says.

More than 1600 hectares have been destroyed by the fire at Lake Ohau that also ripped through the small alpine village on Sunday morning. Five weeks ago, around 3000 hectares of trees and scrub were turned to ash.

“It’s not even fire season and we have lost almost 50 homes and over 5000 ha because of fire,” Federated Farmers High Country Chair Rob Stokes says.

“In August we had the Pukaki Downs fires, also burning through DOC land, and now just weeks later another fire, again burning through DOC land. Both these fires were entirely avoidable.

“Lake Ohau residents who have tragically lost their homes must today have serious questions around what fuelled the fire.”

Federated Farmers has held grave fears for many years that locking up high country land without the proper care is dangerous.

In future Feds believes the risk will become even greater as the government’s new freshwater policies and the livestock destocking that will come through unreasonable fencing requirements will kick in. These policies will result in the growth of more combustible vegetation.

“This fire is another red flag; how many do we need?” Rob asks.

The 2012 Report of the Independent Fire Review said vegetation fires were arguably New Zealand’s most significant fire risk.

Destocking hill and high-country farms for conservation purposes has not been thoroughly thought through, Rob says.

“There is simply no science to support destocking. Now people have lost their homes because of mismanagement by DOC.”

Passive grazing of these areas in the past has significantly reduced the fire risk by controlling wilding pines and grasses, which left ungrazed become fuel. It also enabled the landowners and leaseholders to manage other pests while preserving open landscapes.

Feds also wants to forget the cheap shots and get serious about fire risk vegetation:

The destruction at Lake Ohau should light a fire under DOC for early negotiations with farmers on a partnership approach to deal with uncontrolled vegetation on conservation land, Federated Farmers says.

“For Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage to suggest yesterday that Federated Farmers was opportunistic in the wake of the Ohau blaze and just looking for free grazing was a cheap shot,” Feds High Country Chairperson Rob Stokes says.

Her comment that farmers are looking for cheap grazing was a very cheap shot and an uniformed one.

“We have been warning about fire fuel loads on DOC land in the South Island for years.  We have only been opportunistic in the sense that the near-miss to human lives, not to mention the stock loss and serious property damage from Sunday’s fire, was a chance to finally get some traction with the department and the government on this issue.

“Farmers aren’t looking for ‘free’ anything.  They operate commercial businesses and they’re looking for a partnership, with contracts, to try and reduce a serious risk to safety, private property and the environment,” Rob says.

Federated Farmers recognises there are some areas of the DOC estate where it’s totally inappropriate to have livestock.  But in less sensitive areas, low numbers of sheep or cattle can keep combustible grass, scrub and immature wilding pine levels down.

“Australia, the UK and the USA have learned this lesson but in New Zealand we seem to be going 180 degrees in the other direction.  In fire risk areas of those other nations, authorities are inviting farmers to graze livestock on public land – in fact, in some places are paying them to do so.”

On her return from the Climate Smart Agriculture event in Bali last year, former Feds President Katie Milne pointed out that Spain had rejected pressure for reductions in livestock numbers after it was pointed out that with fewer livestock chewing down grass and bush in forested areas, the losses and costs of forest fires already equivalent to around 3% of Spain’s GDP would accelerate.

For farmers, grazing adjacent DOC land can be more of a headache than a gain.  Because the areas are not fenced, mustering is time-consuming and the land is often such that the animals don’t put on much weight.

“Any grazing arrangement might only be for three months a year.  What is the farmer supposed to do with the animals for the other nine months?  That’s why it’s sensible to have long-term arrangements with land-owners immediately adjacent to DOC land, so there’s no costs trucking animals in and so on,” Rob says.

“Federated Farmers welcomes an opportunity to sit down with DOC for a sensible discussion on the practicalities of fire fuel loads on the public estate.” 

At least some of the people who are screaming loudest about the dangers of climate change are the ones who oppose mitigation – irrigation, and farming practices such as light grazing which have protected the high country for generations.

2 Responses to Feds fired up over fires

  1. murrayg1 says:

    “which have protected the high country for generations”?


    Confirmation bias 101.

    This is a Systems problem now. We are a species which appropriated the habitats of every other species, globally. We also fought off many of those whose habitat is us. And we drew down the finite resource-stocks of the planet at exponentially-increasing rates. The biggest one was fossilised sunlight – millions of years in the gestation and – tellingly – buried throughout ALL human evolution. We are extracting that total resource in a 300 year bonanza. And altering the above-ground chemisrty – no surprise. We also increased our numbers, courtesy of that energy-bonanza, to be overshot by 5 or 6 billion (depending on our desired consumption-rate). Thus WE are in many more places.

    Farming, as practised, is a linear, extractive process reliant on fossil energy (try pushing a tractor by hand, or razing a rainforest by hand to produce PKE, or ship it by sail). It was jointly or severally part of the ecological problem(s) we now face. Nature, left alone, does just fine. Farming is (and we are) the intrusion, and without human intrusion there would be zero need for Conservation. We should never have grazed the high country, never introduced pines, rabbits, pussums, ferrets, stoats, calicivirus, anything. Every one is a case of the old woman swallowing the fly.

    But what we face now, is “a period of consequences”. Your generation, HP, argued for itself. It burned the fossil store as fast as it could, tore into everything and everywhere it could, excused itself, justified itself. That pathway kills our species off, along with many others; it therefore had/has to be abandoned, bypassed, outlawed. We are on that continuum now; the backward lurch of National (the dinosaur-look that is the current leadership and the departing of the forward-looking echelon) tells us it will be ever-more irrelevant. Labour are on the way, but have 4/5ths to go yet.

    And part of the ‘consequences’ is the increased fire danger from a changing climate, coupled with the legacy of tussock-removal (it retains high-country moisture and adds capacitance to rain events) plus the wilding (human-introduced) pine problem. This isn’t the time for parochial bleatings. For blame or finger-pointing. Yes, farming has a lot to answer for. Yes, in present form it is unsustainable. Yes, we have a problem with our multi-front intrusion (of us and our stuff) into ever-more space. Yes, we need to triage what we do where. But don’t argue for a short-term human alteration as the answer. None of these problems existed pre human arrival. Remember that if we weren’t here, there would be no need for conservation. Fed Farmers shouldn’t blame a Department whose neck was knelt on for 9 years by a flawed, shot-term-gain ideology. Fed Farmers have a big job ahead (getting food-production off fossil energy before if leaves us and/or cooks us). Conservation have an actually impossible problem cleaning up behind us – because we all dodged the real costs. Us vs them is a waste of time, and a misunderstanding of the current human predicament.

    If we are going to produce food for NZ (forget the nonsense about 9-10 billion by xyz date – we aren’t going to see those numbers and beyond fossil energy the chances of a growth-based global ‘economy’ is moot) in a long-term-maintainable manner, it will be a very different ‘industry’ to what we see now. Full-circle nutrient, self-energy-sufficient (I think we’ll see us growing our own biodiesel to run an ageing collection of machinery) non-monocultural (meaning biodiverse) and a major question about long-term pest and pollinator approaches. FF need to look forward, not backward. Big-picture, not parochial. Like National, to remain relevant they have to look ahead. Or risk what happens to all dinosaurs.


  2. adamsmith1922 says:

    Reblogged this on The Inquiring Mind and commented:
    See comment on blog as well which provides an alternative view


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