11,800ha granted protection

The Mackenzie Basin is the only place in the country where it is still possible to see the entire...
The Mackenzie Basin. Photo: Getty Images
The Government has designated 11,800ha in the Mackenzie Basin near this week’s major fire "dryland" conservation land.

Conservation and land information minister Eugenie Sage made the announcement today and said the area would "come under the korowai or cloak" of Tu Te Rakiwhanoa Drylands, a collaborative initiative between the Crown, manawhenua, and landholders.

"It aims to foster active protection and management of significant lower altitude areas in the Mackenzie and Waitaki basins to protect the area’s stunning landscape values and ensure native plants and wildlife can thrive," Ms Sage said.

The land was not involved in the grass and forest fire that swept through about 3000ha next to Lake Pukaki earlier this week.

Nineteen aircraft were called in to fight the fire which was eventually extinguished by a heavy fall of snow.

Ms Sage told the Otago Daily Times the fire highlighted the importance of tackling the spread of wilding conifers which were "the key fuel source".

The Government was putting "substantial resources" towards wilding conifer control, she said, with the budget doubled in 2019 to $21million, and a further $100million allocated in 2020 as part of the "jobs for nature programme".

"Tussocklands in themselves don’t increase the fire risk.

"The bigger challenge is doing all we can to reduce emissions and the effects of climate change which we’re already seeing are contributing to drier summers and longer and more intense wildfire seasons — especially in the eastern South Island."

Ms Sage said there was also a need to increase awareness of fire safety when using farm and other machinery, and when camping.

"There is a lot we can learn from Australia."

The new dryland conservation land includes 1792ha at Ohau Downs bought by the nature heritage fund from Kees Zeestraten who wanted to use it for dairy farming.

Ms Sage said the Ohau Downs land included the most extensive intact sequences of landforms created by glacial deposits in New Zealand, and tarns, wetland and freshwater complexes with nationally important ecological and landscape values.

The conservation area also includes 4100ha of unoccupied Crown land in the Tasman riverbed, 3132ha of the Simons Pass pastoral lease and 1631ha of the Twin Peaks pastoral lease.

Ms Sage said the New Zealand Defence Force had added its support to the drylands initiative, in its management of its 15,000ha Tekapo military training area, by controlling wilding conifers and predators.

Ms Sage said indigenous vegetation, habitats and landscapes at lower altitudes in the Mackenzie and Waitaki basins had been "badly affected by agricultural intensification, cultivation, irrigation and dairying".

"This and the loss of connected ecosystems has been the source of conflict between environmental advocates, councils, farmers and landowners for decades.

"Tu Te Rakiwhanoa Drylands is looking for a less combative way forward in which the people and stakeholders of the Mackenzie Basin can choose to do the right thing for nature while at the same time doing right by each other."


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