DoC policy fueling fires?

06/10/2020

Is DOC policy fueling fires?

Farmers say wilding vegetation on DOC land helped fuel the Lake Ōhau fire but the conservation minister has hit back saying nature does not start fires.

The Ōhau fire destroyed at least 20 homes and forced around 90 people to evacuate.

Federated Farmers High Country Committee chairman Rob Stokes said he had been warning the government about this danger for 12 years.

He said DOC closing up land for national parks meant that the ground was not grazed by sheep and cattle and therefore tussocks and grass were left to grow wild.

“I’ve been in the high country committee for 12 years and we’ve bought it up with DOC every year – the fuel that has been built up over the years is going to be an ongoing issue.

“It’s early in the season to be hit but it won’t be the last fire that’s for sure,” Stokes said.

He said it was good the government was investing a lot into wilding pine and weed control but more needs to be done.

“The scrub builds up over a year – when the country used to be clean we had buffer zones, but the conservation land is a bomb waiting to go off.”

Andrew Simpson farms merino sheep and cattle at Balmoral Station near Lake Tekapo.

He has notified Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage often about this problem.

“I’ve told her they may need to rethink how they manage some of this conservation land it is a fuel load and a disaster waiting to happen.

“She didn’t dismiss grazing it again but I’ve said that she might have to do some strategic fuel loading burns to get rid some of the problem areas like they do in Australia.

“It creates fire breaks and alleviates the risk of so much land being burnt,” Simpson said. . . 

Mackenzie District mayor Graham Smith also blames DOC mismanagement of conservation land:

Five weeks ago, a fire near Lake Pukaki, near Twizel, burned through more than 3500ha of land – much of it wilding pines – on August 30.

Mr Smith has joined a growing chorus of voices calling for better management of Doc land to prevent such blazes from burning out of control in future. . . 

“It is a huge risk to neighbouring properties to have areas of land with that much vegetation and fuel for fires. I would like to see better management practises.”

Ms Sage today visited Lake Ohau village and said she remained focused on the losses people faced in the immediate aftermath of the fire.

However, she said there would be a need for a conversation about ‘‘land management in the bigger picture’’ in future.

The current Government had put $100 million over four years into controlling wilding conifers, Ms Sage said, and on conservation land these had been substantially reduced.

‘‘Federated Farmers, I think, was making a push for free grazing,” she said. “Nature doesn’t start fires except by occasional lightning strikes, it’s managing human activity that is the key.”

No-one said anything about free. If light grazing was permitted it could help fund conservation.

North Otago Federated Farmers high country chairman Simon Williamson, a farm owner between Omarama and Twizel, said he had been woken by news of the Lake Ohau fire after 3am yesterday. . . 

Mr Williamson said the retired land the fire was spreading through was a “huge risk” that had not been addressed.

“All this ground that’s been locked up and hasn’t been grazed is becoming a hazard to life. The fuel loading in the land is just huge.”

Mr Williamson said having two fires in the past month highlighted the dangers of retired land and wilding pines.

“People are saying they want to lock everything up and create a safe habitat, but you’re not locking it up when it’s not being grazed or managed … you get one spark and it spreads and burns everything in sight.”

Mr Williamson said he heard of three or four farms that had lost livestock or had to move it.

“It’s really disappointing. We’ve been warning of this for a long time … once upon a time it was all grazing land.

“There’s a mindset that grazing is bad and it kills wildlife, but the reality is these massive blazes are going to happen more and more and spread further and further.”

The government has put millions into wilding pine control but that is a different issue from the fuel load that builds up when grass and scrub aren’t grazed.

The tenure review process has put many thousands of hectares under DOC control and not all has been a conservation success.

Farmers used to carry out weed and pest control but DOC hasn’t been funded to do as much of that as is needed.

And contrary to the views of those dark green advocates, removing stock doesn’t mean the land returns to the pristine condition in which they think it existed in a utopian past.

The hills around the summit of the Lindis Pass used to be covered in tussock. Without the stock grazing and application of fertiliser that happened when the area was farmed, hieracium is colonising the hillsides and the tussock is disappearing.

That isn’t nearly as scenic as the tussock was but it’s the danger of the growing fuel load that worries neighbouring land owners most.

Lightening strikes excepted, nature doesn’t start fires. But left to its own devices nature does add to the fuel load that increases the risk of fire spreading regardless of how it starts.


Rural round-up

08/03/2018

Meat companies must be clear about their purpose – Allan Barber:

When I heard KPMG’s global agribusiness head, Ian Proudfoot, on the radio stating the move away from meat to alternative proteins was happening permanently and quickly and meat companies needed to wake up, I wondered whether I had strayed into the Pop Up Globe to see A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Surely if meat companies need to wake up to alternative protein, this implies their whole business model is broken and farmers should be sitting in front of their horoscopes looking for a magical answer to the inevitable question “what the hell do I do now?”

Proudfoot’s justification for his opinion is US meat processor Tyson Foods’ announcement it has become protein agnostic and intends investing heavily in alternatives to meat. . . 

Awatere Valley farmers make a dent in “scourge of the high country” – Pat Deavoll:

For over half a century hieracium has been the curse of the high country, engulfing native tussock land and destroying the grazing potential of areas such as the Mackenzie Basin, Central Otago and the Canterbury high country.

Most high country runholders would say the weed continues its spread with little sign of abating, but a small enclave in the Awatere Valley, Marlborough thinks otherwise.

“Yes I think it’s on the decline here,” says Jim Ward, manager of Molesworth Station. . . 

Fonterra launches cutting-Edgar technology taking health and safety into 22nd century:

Fonterra and Beca have partnered to develop a breakthrough virtual reality health and safety training technology. The cutting-edge solution lets employees navigate the Co-operative’s manufacturing and distribution sites without the need to set foot on site and will help substantially reduce onboarding times.

The new technology will place Fonterra at the forefront of global health and safety innovation and is part of a business wide commitment to become a world leader in risk mitigation. . . 

M. bovis’ hurts all down the chain – Sally Brooker:

Mycoplasma bovis is affecting people all along the cattle supply chain.
Oamaru-based Whitestone Livestock Ltd principal John Cheesman said the bacterial disease was ”a real bloody issue”.

M. bovis was identified for the first time in New Zealand in late July on farms near Glenavy owned by the Van Leeuwen Dairy Group.

”It’s not really affecting the Waiareka saleyards as much as farmers’ and everybody else’s confidence to buy animals from this district and any other district,” Mr Cheesman said.

Environmental issues No. 1 focus:

Reducing on-farm environmental footprints is the top priority at Lincoln University.

Speaking at the Lincoln University Dairy Farm’s summer focus day, which was held at the Ashley Dene Research and Development Station on February 22, Faculty of Agriculture and Life Sciences dean Prof Grant Edwards said managing environmental concerns was the No1 focus.

”How can we progress our farms to maximise production within environmental limits?” . . . 

New study finds more omega 3s in milk from grass-fed cows – Hope Kirwan:

A new study shows milk from grass-fed cows has more of a nutrient linked to heart health than conventional and organic milks.

Organic Valley collected 1,163 samples over three years of their Grassmilk, a product line of milk from 100 percent grass-fed cows, and had their fatty acid content analyzed. The study compared the omega-3 fatty acid levels in the milk from grass-fed cows to conventional and organic milk. Researchers found that milk from grass-fed cows had 147 percent more omega-3s than conventional milk and 52 percent more than organic milk.

Omega-3 fatty acid has been shown to prevent heart disease and help control chronic conditions like arthritis. . .


How much will Molesworth cost?

15/01/2018

The Department of Conservation is consulting on the Molesworth Station management plan.

Molesworth is an iconic high-country station. It is owned by the public of New Zealand and managed by DOC on your behalf.

The Station became a recreation reserve in 2005. It has many values, including heritage, conservation, cultural and recreation.

Managing Molesworth

Molesworth is currently managed as a working high-country station through a farming lease and grazing licence to Landcorp. The farming lease expires in 2020.

A management plan for Molesworth was approved in 2013. Its intention was to transition Molesworth from its traditional focus on farming to include more recreation and conservation activities.

The plan puts restrictions on public access in order to meet farming requirements. It may be necessary to manage recreational activity to protect conservation goals for natural, cultural and historic reasons, and to protect the recreational experience of other users.

DOC sees potential in working collaboratively with others on landscape-scale restoration in Molesworth. It is a biodiversity hotspot for a wide range of dryland animal and plant species. It also faces challenges from pests and significant weed problems such as wilding conifers. . . 

We were on Molesworth a few years ago and horrified by the spread of wilding pines. The spread of hieracium was also a visible problem.

DOC wants people’s thoughts on

  • how Molesworth is currently managed
  • how you think the range of values on Molesworth should be managed into the future
  • future opportunities or improvements to the way Molesworth is managed.

You’ll find the survey here.

Molesworth’s values include heritage, conservation, cultural and recreation.

Farming fits with heritage, conservation and cultural values and doesn’t have to exclude recreation. It also generates income, although that doesn’t mean it makes a profit for either Landcorp which leases the property, or DOC.

Profit, or loss, is something which isn’t addressed in the survey. What will implementing the plan for Molesworth cost and who will pay for it?

Recreation and conservation values are important but how much income, if any, will they generate?

Grazing helps curb weeds and farm staff can help control rabbits, possums and other pests which threaten native flora and fauna as part of their daily work.

If conservation and recreation replace farming, there won’t be an automatic return to nature as it was before the settlers came. Introduced weeds and pests will flourish with no stock and farm workers to control them.

The tussock has been disappearing from the top of the Lindis Pass since DOC took over the management land after the farm released it under tenure review. That is because hieracium is flourishing as fertility drops and no stock graze it before seed heads form. Without a comprehensive, and expensive, weed control plan, Molesworth will face a similar issue with introduced weeds.

Another potential problem is an increase in the risk of fire with growth uncontrolled by stock and more recreational visitors.

Molesworth is considered an iconic high country station.

Farming doesn’t have to be inconsistent with recreation and conservation.

Furthermore it could generate income to offset some of the costs, lessen the fire danger and contribute more to weed and pest control.

 


HIgh country farmers can irrigate

25/08/2012

High country farmers have had their right to irrigate upheld by the High Court:

Royal Forest & Bird Protection Society took corporate farmer Five Farms and the Waitaki District Council to court for a judicial review of the council’s granting “conditional certificates of compliance” to high country farming operations.

The practice allows farmers to avoid requiring a resource consent to develop their land, but with restrictions on native vegetation clearance. The WDC case involves farmland also designated as part of the WDC’s scenic rural zone.

Forest & Bird was successful on other issues, getting the conditional certificates declared “illegal” and established “at the least the possibility of vast tracts of indigenous vegetation in areas where the proposed activities were to be undertaken.”

Planned arable cropping in the area did constitute native vegetation clearance, Justice Christine French ruled.

She agreed, as did all counsel, that native vegetation in the dry Waitaki Valley environment would disappear within a year or two, if not months, once an area became irrigated.

But the WDC’s rules did not specifically nominate irrigation as a cause of native vegetation clearance.

Whether irrigated or not farming will have an impact on the land. But what would happen if the area wasn’t farmed at all?

Nature isn’t static. Not far from this area is the Linids Pass scenic reserve. The glorious golden tussocks thrived there when the land owned by farmers who grazed and top dressed it. Now it is under DOC control and has no stock or fertiliser the tussock is disappearing.

It might be replaced by whatever was there before it was farmed in time – but at the moment it looks like the only thing growing is hieracium.


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