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Feds: Forget The Cheap Shots, Let’s Get Sensible About Fire Risk Vegetation

The destruction at Lake Ohau should light a fire under DOC for early negotiations with farmers on a partnership approach to deal with uncontrolled vegetation on conservation land, Federated Farmers says.

"For Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage to suggest yesterday that Federated Farmers was opportunistic in the wake of the Ohau blaze and just looking for free grazing was a cheap shot," Feds High Country Chairperson Rob Stokes says.

"We have been warning about fire fuel loads on DOC land in the South Island for years. We have only been opportunistic in the sense that the near-miss to human lives, not to mention the stock loss and serious property damage from Sunday’s fire, was a chance to finally get some traction with the department and the government on this issue.

"Farmers aren’t looking for ‘free’ anything. They operate commercial businesses and they’re looking for a partnership, with contracts, to try and reduce a serious risk to safety, private property and the environment," Rob says.

Federated Farmers recognises there are some areas of the DOC estate where it’s totally inappropriate to have livestock. But in less sensitive areas, low numbers of sheep or cattle can keep combustible grass, scrub and immature wilding pine levels down.

"Australia, the UK and the USA have learned this lesson but in New Zealand we seem to be going 180 degrees in the other direction. In fire risk areas of those other nations, authorities are inviting farmers to graze livestock on public land - in fact, in some places are paying them to do so."

On her return from the Climate Smart Agriculture event in Bali last year, former Feds President Katie Milne pointed out that Spain had rejected pressure for reductions in livestock numbers after it was pointed out that with fewer livestock chewing down grass and bush in forested areas, the losses and costs of forest fires already equivalent to around 3% of Spain’s GDP would accelerate.

For farmers, grazing adjacent DOC land can be more of a headache than a gain. Because the areas are not fenced, mustering is time-consuming and the land is often such that the animals don’t put on much weight.

"Any grazing arrangement might only be for 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 land-owners immediately adjacent to DOC land, so there’s no costs trucking animals in and so on," Rob says.

"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."

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