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St James Park - an irresponsible last hurrah

HIGH COUNTRY ACCORD MEDIA RELEASE

08 October 2008

St James Park - an irresponsible last hurrah

The decision of the government to buy St James Station and add it to the conservation estate is irresponsible says a high country farming group.

"This looks like a last hurrah for prime minister Helen Clark. At a time when the government's books are empty, there is still big money for the prime minister's pet projects," says High Country Accord chair Ben Todhunter.

"The government is guilty of a gross misallocation of taxpayer funds by expanding Crown ownership of high country farmland, especially in the wake of the dire predictions for the economy over the next decade.

"The high country is prone to weed invasion and has to be maintained at substantial expense * an expense which was previously paid for by the farmer. The prime minister has just handed this burden to taxpayers and DoC, a department that struggles even in the best of times to control weeds and pests on its vast estates," he says.

"How much better it would be for taxpayers and the economy if DoC was encouraged to work with private land holders to maximise conservation values on private land."

Mr Todhunter says since 2002 the government has taken an area of high country more than twice the size of Stewart Island, and at vast cost removed it from farming and added it to the conservation estate.

"To speed this process up, the government last year cynically changed rental formulas on leasehold properties so that in some cases, rents are higher than gross farm incomes. This is forcing farming families to sell and, under these circumstances, the Crown is often the only buyer."

[ends]

BACKGROUNDER

How much high country land has Labour acquired?

In 2002, the Labour-led government set its sights on acquiring 1.3 million ha of tussock grassland from pastoral leases in the South Island high country (about 60% of the 2.19 million ha of land in pastoral lease in January 2002). This was to be done largely through tenure review and outright property purchases.

By 31 May 2008, 56 of 303 leases had completed tenure review and nine had accepted substantive proposals from the Crown. From these properties, 48% of the land (165,266 ha) had been or were to be bought by the Crown from the lessee and 52% (189,539 ha) by the lessee from the Crown.

Four leases totalling 49,242 hectares * Twin Burn, Michael Peak, Birchwood and Hakatere Stations * had been bought outright by the Crown. In addition, the government declined to renew the Mount Ida "Soldiers' Settlement" grazing licence in Otago * a further 8401 ha.

In summary, between 2002 and May 2008 the Crown transferred 229,909 hectares of high country pastoral farmland to the conservation estate. All this land, plus the 180,000 hectare Molesworth Station that was transferred from Landcorp, has to be maintained by the Department of Conservation * a department that struggles to protect endangered species on its existing estate.

The purchase of St James Station adds a further 78,196 hectares to the Crown estate and takes the total area transferred to DoC to 488,105 hectares -- an area 2.6 times the size of Stewart Island (185,000 ha).

Most observers would conclude that such a major transfer of land out of productive use must be justified on ecological grounds. This is not the case. An independent review for the Department of Conservation states that high altitude tussock grasslands are well-represented in the DoC estate. Other research shows that low intensity grazing systems are both sustainable and help control weeds.

ENDS


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