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South Island Could Face Rural Fire Disaster

South Island Could Face Rural Fire Disaster

Tuesday 27th Mar 2001 Gerry Eckhoff Media Release -- Other

ACT Agriculture spokesman Gerry Eckhoff predicted today that the "whole of the South Island High Country tussock grassland from Marlborough to Central Otago is at risk" unless there is a change in Department of Conservation policy.

"The fire this weekend in the Arthur's Pass area and the Marlborough fire earlier this year are giving us fair warning that a major fire disaster is not far away.

“The high country from Marlborough to Central Otago is particularly vulnerable at present due to extremely dry conditions. However, at any time the high country is made more vulnerable by preservationist policies that allow the undergrowth to develop, providing the tinder for an accidental fire to run rampant.

"This is all preventable by good risk management practises. What we are seeing is not even good conservation - it is simply a bull-headed approach to supposed natural values. DoC needs to see sense. It should allow farmers to help with the management of the land, through appropriate burn-offs when conditions are right, such as in winter and spring - and judicious grazing.

"Huge numbers of stock are being put at risk by allowing this tinder dry vegetation to proliferate. Another risk is that at this time of the year these fires burn very hot and vegetation, that DoC is trying to protect, is killed by fire reaching down to its roots. Recovery will not be quick and high country erosion is certain to follow.

"DoC are well known in the high country as the 'neighbours from hell' and it is time they took responsibility for the management of the fire risk in the DoC estate or handed it over to those who can. We can't do a lot about the weather but we can manage these finely balanced natural areas to minimise risk to life, stock and the eco-system.

“The fires in Oregon USA last year were the result of similar mis-management. Let's not have it repeated here,” Mr Eckhoff said.

ENDS

For more information visit ACT online at http://www.act.org.nz or contact the ACT Parliamentary Office at act@parliament.govt.nz.

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