Call to allow grazing on conservation land

Federated Farmers says controlled grazing of conservation land can reduce fire risk.

High country chairman Rob Stokes, who farms near Oxford, said the recent Ohau fires in the Mackenzie Basin highlighted the need for the Department of Conservation (Doc) to sit down and have "a sensible discussion with farmers".

While there were some areas of the Doc estate where it was inappropriate to have livestock, in less sensitive areas low numbers could keep combustible grass, scrub and immature wilding pine levels down.

"We have been warning about fire fuel loads on Doc land in the South Island for years."

For farmers, grazing next to Doc land could be more of a headache than a gain, as the areas were not fenced, mustering was time-consuming and the low quality land meant animals did not put on much weight, Mr Stokes said.

"Any grazing arrangement might be for only 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 landowners immediately adjacent to Doc land, so there’s no costs trucking animals in and so on.

"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."

But University of Canterbury plant ecologist Prof David Kelly said stopping grazing was an essential long-term management solution for conservation department reserves. He said criticism of Doc was misplaced.

"Even the farmed areas here are still very flammable. There's grass and shrubs and so on.

"The key is the least flammable vegetation in this whole area is the native beech forest, which is native to that side of the lake.

"And if you can get away from that long grass to either native shrubs or getting towards native forest you end up with a much less flammable landscape."

Moving away from grazing on Doc land would also help biodiversity in the long term, Prof Kelly said.

The drawback to stopping land being used for grazing was a short-term increase in flammability.

But action needed to be taken now because it would take 20 to 30 years to get the necessary increase in native shrubs and beech, while climate change meant an increased risk of large fires.

In the short-term, removing wilding pines was crucial. Good progress was being made, he said.

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