Stop tenure review and environmental death by a thousand cuts in the Mackenzie Country

DSCF0767 Sympsosium participants on the field trip on 26th november

We do not have a vision for the Mackenzie Country area. At the moment it is being carved up piece by piece under tenure review. The government has signalled we do not have the funds to continue to acquire land for the Conservation estate so let’s leave things the way they are and stop the tenure review process.

Mackenzie Guardians urge the government to place a moratorium on tenure review and discretionary consents under the Crown Pastoral Lands Act (1998) and formulate a long-term vision for this unique area. Much of it is still Crown Land and the people of New Zealand should have a say in what happens here. At stake are our billion-dollar tourist industry, our iconic tussock views, unique bird life and 64 endangered plants threatened by proposed intensive agricultural development and the cubicle dairy proposals.

The region is a major source of New Zealand’s hydroelectricity generation. Our electricity generation could be threatened by the proliferation of weeds in Lake Tekapo as a result of proposed intensive farming. Much of this land is of marginal value under traditional farming practice hence the pressure for intensive irrigation. The process of tenure review is spearheading these changes and we need to reconsider the tenure review process itself.

Mackenzie Guardians are concerned that Minister Nick Smith and his colleagues appear to be preventing the Department of Conservation from undertaking its statutory responsibilities i.e. tasks that the public via parliament have agreed it should do (e.g. via the Reserves Act regarding protection of representative landscapes and ecosystems; the Crown Pastoral Lands Act (CPLA) and government policy for pastoral leases; the Conservation Act and Canterbury Aoraki Conservation Management Strategy).

However Mackenzie Guardians agree with Dr Smith that last weekend’s Mackenzie Symposium was “very timely” and that the adversarial approach through litigation is not the way forward to safeguarding this iconic environment. We support a collaborative approach but this needs to be a true collaboration of all stakeholders.

Dr Smith said that there should be “strong scientific underpinning” to any solutions. Mackenzie Guardians believe that a moratorium on tenure review and discretionary consents under the Crown Pastoral Lands Act (1998) would give the opportunity for more scientific assessment of the effects of land use changes on the fragile and unique tussock landscapes and grasslands of the Mackenzie Country. This is a heritage that belongs to all New Zealanders and future generations.

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Mackenzie local Ron Blackstock at the recent Mackenzie Symposium
. He asked Richard Peacock, director of two of the applicant companies, Southdown Holdings Ltd and Williamson Holdings Ltd, who was explaining his proposed cubicle farming what he would do if 7 metres of snow fell on his cubicle cows as happened on his family run when he was a boy and there was snow on the ground for months.

Cubicle dairy farming resource consent applications have been made in respect of three locations: Ohau Downs (Five Rivers Ltd), Glen Eyrie Downs (Southdown Holdings Ltd), and Killermont Run (Williamson Holdings Ltd). In fact, only the effluent discharge consent applications of the cubicle farming proposal, have been called in by the government. The water take consents are still proceeding, and land use consents have already been granted, although they are being judicially reviewed by the Environmental Defence Society (EDS). We may know the answer quite soon: Gary Taylor from the EDS says he is seeking a priority fixture.

30 May 2003 and 3 April 2006, on Labour’s watch, the Land Information New Zealand made these former pieces of Crown pastoral land freehold and they are now the subject of Southdown Holdings’ and Williamson Holdings’ cubicle dairy farming applications.
Ohau Downs does not seems have been given much protection, notwithstanding its close proximity to Lake Ohau and the Ohau Snow Fields whose operator and owner Mike Neilson, fears the impact of this landscape change on their tourism.
Picture 3
Green is Ohau Downs owned by Five Rivers and Blue Is Glen Eyrie Downs Owned By Southdown Holdings.

The tenure review process is governed by the Crown Pastoral Land Act 1998. It’s a trade off: pastoral lease holders, who would otherwise have had exclusive pastoral farming rights and a perpetual right of renewal, restore some land to Crown ownership for conservation purposes; in return, they get freehold title to the remainder, with or without conditions. It comes at a cost to both parties, over and above any financial cost: the farmer loses land; the Crown gives up its right to manage what has been relinquished.

But the Crown need not give up its rights entirely, and it’s not at all clear from the terms of the Act that it should. The Act puts a heavy emphasis on ecological sustainability. The objects of the tenure review process are said to be:

To promote the management of reviewable land in a way that is ecologically sustainable.
To enable reviewable land capable of economic use to be freed from the management constraints resulting from its tenure, but only subject to that first objective.

While land is Crown pastoral land, consent is required for farming activities (cultivating, cropping, top dressing, burning off, and so on). Upon tenure review, the Act provides for ongoing protective mechanisms, for example under sections 40 and 97, to protect any significant inherent value of the land concerned, or its management in a way that is ecologically sustainable.

Here are the substantive proposals adopted by LINZ for Quailburn and Killermont. They were subject to only basic constraints – nothing of the above kind in either case. We’re seeing the results of that now in this push for intensive development of land bordering internationally significant bird breeding sites.

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Symposium Partiicipants check out the landscape restoration and biodiversity at the Lake Tekapo Scientific Reserve

As Jim Morris said “The greatest stakeholders are our grandchildren.”
Lets us not lose sight of this and have robust dialogue about all the implications of proposed changes to the water assets and crown land that we all have a stake in.

Transcripts of all the papers given at the Symposium can be found on the Environment Defence Website. (follow the link in our links section )

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