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.