Seeking a mountain song


Friends have asked me to take the funeral service for their mother tomorrow.

She was a high country woman, born and brought up on a station where she in turn brought up her own family.

She loved the mountains and hills and the family want to sing a hymn or song which reflects that.

I ToThe Hills Will Lift Mine Eyes came to mind but they’d like another suggestion.

There must be another hymn or song that expresses love for the mountains, hills and/or high country but I can’t think of it and no-one else I’ve asked can either.

If you can think of one which might be appropriate I’d be grateful for any suggestions.

Common ground on high country


That a change in government has brought a change in attitude towards the high country was reinforced by Minister of Conservation, Kate Wilkinson, in her address to Federated Farmers High Country section:

. . . we, the stewards of the high country – you as the farmers and me as the Minister responsible for public conservation land in the high country – have more in common than I think we often realise.

I think it’s fair to say that too often in New Zealand we are only prepared to emphasise and remember the differences rather than reflect all of what we achieve together. . .

I must emphasise that we share the common interest for preserving the high country for future generations – whether for farming, landscape and biodiversity protection or recreation.

Public conservation land constitutes about one third of the South Island high country. We are all stewards here.  DOC, through Landcorp, has an association with Molesworth Station – 180,787 hectares home to New Zealand’s biggest herd of beef cattle, numbering up to 10,000 beasts.   DOC has also granted over 800 grazing licences on public conservation land.

We share the common purpose of managing alternative economic opportunities from our core business – particularly tourism opportunities.     

We share the threats.  Fire, pests and weeds do not respect boundaries.  This means as neighbours with these common interests we must work together. We may be neighbours for a very long time – and we, like you, want to be good neighbours.

The relationship between the previous government and high country farmers, especially those with pastoral leases was at best uncomfortable and often antagonistic.

Farmers felt their stewardship was undervalued and their property rights were threatened.

The current government’s acknowledgement of farmers’ stewardship and their role in safegaurding the land; and respect for their property rights have provided the foundation for a much healthier relationship between all politicians, DOC and farmers.

Hope for the high country


The government’s  announcement of a fresh approach to pastoral leases gives hope for the high country.

The new direction for Crown pastoral land strikes a balance between economic use and environmental and cultural values, say Agriculture Minister David Carter and Land Information Minister Maurice Williamson.

The government’s three-prong plan aims to have effective stewardship of the land, better economic use and improved relationships with lessees and high country communities. 

Under the previous administration ineffective stewardship developed when too much land was put under DOC which had insufficient resources to look after it properly; economic use was compromised and relationships with lessees and high country communities were in a very poor state.

The new plan confirms the government’s commitment to basing pastoral leases on the capital value of land. It also rescinds the previous government’s policy which prevented the freeholding of any pastoral leasehold land under tenure review if even a small part of the property was within five kilometres of lakes.

This was inflexible and reduced the potential gains from diversification of land-uses enabled by freeholding. What happens to land if the owner wishes a change of use should be dealt with under the resource consent process and district and regional plans, not through tenure review.

“Labour’s policy was driving more and more land into the DOC estate, with the assumption that the Crown could better look after the land than farming families,” says Mr Carter. “This Government’s direction will maximise the best conservation and economic gains from each tenure review.”

Mr Williamson says the plan recognises the value New Zealanders place on lakesides and landscapes, and promotion of public access to the high country remains part of the tenure review programme.

“Safeguards are in place, including oversight of tenure review funding, to ensure these values are protected by tenure review and pastoral lease management,” the Ministers say. 

Tenure review under the previous government had been slowed down by a requirement for Commission of Crown Lands to report to the Minister of LINZ on all tenure review proposals. The plan recommends that preliminary proposals no longer go before the minister which will speed up the process.

The paper Crown Pastoral Lease 2009 and beyond is here.

The Cabinet minute on the paper is here.

Background and archived documents on the issue are here.

Farming and conservation not mutually exculsive


High Country farming and conservation aren’t mutually exclusive a report into enivronmental stewardship and tenure review  by Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment Dr Jan Wright.

The report  recommends that a High Country Commission be established to provide oversight and strategic direction and it questions the ongoing expansion of the DOC estate.

The only high level strategy for the high country is DoC’s plan for the creation of 22 high country parks. Yet much of the land going into those parks has no special biodiversity value, and comparatively few people will be hardy enough to use them for recreation. With the addition of each park must come the need for significant ongoing Crown expenditure on pest and weed control, access roads, fences, tracks and huts. It is hard to see how this strategy yields the best national value for the conservation dollar.

Farmers and local bodies have been saying this for some time but went unheard because the previous government failed to recognise that farmers had been and could continue to be stewards of high country land and that farming and conservation aren’t mutually exclusive.

Labour’s antipathy to private property rights drove the purchase of large tracts of South Island high country which few if any members of the public will ever see and has left taxpayers with an on-going bill for weed and pest control, repairs and maintenance.

Public funding for conservation will always be limited. Other models that sit between the extremes of unfettered private ownership and management on the one hand and pure DOC ownership and management on the other should be used more widely. Covenants and possibly performance-based fi nancial incentives as well as local authority rules can all be used to support farmers and other owners in the stewardship role many already play.

The previous government gave a directive that leasehold land couldn’t be protected with QEII National Trust covenents, preferring to buy land back from pastoral lessees, saddle DOC with its management and the public with the bill.

Land purchase and fencing alone has already cost the public $120 million.

Agriculture Minsiter David Carter has welcomed the report and says it:

. . . recognises that farmers already play a ‘stewardship’ role, a role which lessees have long argued and which has been overlooked.” 

Mr Carter says that high country runholders can be just as effective stewards as the Crown. 

“We also support the questioning by the Commissioner of the ongoing expansion of the DOC estate. 

“The Government has made it clear that it supports the principle of tenure review, but believes a new approach is needed to restore confidence in the process.  Voluntary, good faith negotiations between lessees and the Crown are at the heart of this.   

This is a welcome change from the anti-farmer view which the previous government subscribed to and should see better economic and environmental outcomes.

Passive maintenance threatens high country



Whether this  is iconic New Zealand landscape which should be in public ownership and under public control is a matter of opinion.

The previous government thought so and took an aggressive approach to retiring much of the South Island high country from pastoral farming and putting it under the care – and I use that term loosely – of DOC.

This property is privately owned by people who graze it and undertake extensive weed and pest control. A lot of the neighbouring property was surrendered during the tenure review process and instead of being actively managed by pastoral lessees it’s being passively managed by DOC.

That means pest control is largely left to hunters who are given licences to shoot given areas. Their aim is sport not the good of the land, so many selectively cull to ensure enough pigs, deer and other animals will survive to breed so they have something to kill next time rather than aiming to eradicate them.

Weed control doesn’t seem to be happening at all as the land is left to revert back to its natural state.

But natural now isn’t the same as natural before people arrived so introduced species like gorse, broom and hyracium are winning the battle with tussock and other native plants and also increasing the risk of fire.

The photo above was taken in North Canterbury last Wednesday and it was very dry but grazing and weed control have kept the growth down. The growth on the neighbouring land has gone unchecked and it’s a significant fire hazard.

Misguided regulations on tree planting and conservation are thought to be party responsbile for the dreadful loss of life and property from the Australian bushfires.

There are fewer people and animals in the South Island high country, but they, the buildings and the land are also at risk  because of policies based on emotion and politics not science.

P.S. In related posts on the Australian fires  Not PC  found a house that was saved when the law was ignored and one which was lost because it was obeyed; Poneke says green lobby demands were partly to blame for the fires and Solo asks can we get angry now?

Dead horse strategies


 A high country stockman knows that when you discover you are riding a dead horse the best strategy is to dismount.

In the New Zealand parliament however, a whole range of far more advanced strategies is often employed, such as:


  1. Change riders.                       
  2. Buy a stronger whip.
  3. Do nothing because there is nothing wrong with dead horses and this is the way we have always ridden them.
  4. Visit other countries to see how they ride dead horses.
  5. Perform a productivity study to see if lighter riders would improve the dead horse’s performance.
  6. Hire a contractor to ride the dead horse.
  7. Harness several dead horses together in an attempt to increase speed.
  8. Provide additional funding and or training to increase the dead horse’s performance.
  9. Appoint a committee to study the horse and assess how dead it actually is.
  10. Re-classify the dead horse as living impaired.
  11. Develop a strategic plan for the management of dead horses.
  12. Rewrite the expected performance requirements for all dead horses 
  13. Modify existing standards to include dead horses 
  14. Declare that as a dead horse does not have to be fed, it is less costly, carries lower over heads and therefore contributes substantially more to the bottom line than many other horses.
  15. Promote the dead horse to a supervisory or management position.
  16. Declare the horse isn’t dead, but if it was it would be because it was being ridden by amateurs.
  17. Hire an expensive lawyer to prove the horse isn’t dead.
  18. Take all responsibilities away from the dead horse but leave it in its stable and continue to feed it. 


Increase for Doc weed & pest control


The Government’s decision to boost spending on weed and pest control on public land is welcome, if overdue.

The extra $5.3m promised sounds good but it’s over four years and I don’t know if that’s enough. Neighbours of Doc land (and we are) have long compalined about the poor level of weed and pest control and the complaints have got louder as tenure review has increased the amount of land under Doc control.

Figures released last year show Doc manages 6.5 million ha, or 42%, of the South Island land mass, and two million ha of the North Island, or 17%.

Overall, 31% of New Zealand is managed by Doc, an estate that was growing. Linz figures released last week reveal Doc had gained an extra 178,000ha of the South Island high country to manage as a result of tenure review of Crown pastoral lease land, or 48% of land that has gone through the process.

The argument over whether Doc would be better concentrating on current responsbilities rather than stretching shrinking resources – staff and capital – over more land is continuing.

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