Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Feds blame DOC for Mackenzie Basin fires

Neal Wallace
Three fires in the Mackenzie Basin since August, razing 50 structures and 5000ha of vegetation, is due to the mismanagement of conservation land, says Federated Farmers.
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The latest fire, which began early on Sunday morning, had by Monday afternoon burnt 4600ha, of which 1900ha was conservation land, across a 41km perimeter.

Eleven helicopters and eight ground crews are fighting the fire, which has already destroyed 40 properties, including homes in the Lake Ohau Village.

The federation’s high country chair Rob Stokes is under no illusions that neglected management of conservation land is to blame and he is calling for a review into how the Department of Conservation (DOC) manages this land.

He says the consequences of destocking hill and high-country farms for conservation purposes has not been thoroughly thought through.

“There is simply no science to support destocking. Now people have lost their homes because of mismanagement by DOC,” he said.

Passive grazing of these areas has previously reduced the fire risk, he says, by controlling wilding pines and grasses which, left ungrazed, become fuel for fire.

It also enabled the landowners and leaseholders to manage other pests while preserving open landscapes.

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DOC operations manager Karina Morrow says in a statement that it is too early to determine where and how the fire started and who was responsible. That will follow an investigation by Fire and Emergency New Zealand.

“The hot dry climate of the Mackenzie Basin and the golden tussock landscape unfortunately means fire will always pose a threat,” she said.

Farmers say the area has had regular rain this winter and spring and was blanketed under 5cm snow last week.

Morrow says land in the path of the fire surrounding the Ohau village is private property.

“Grazing on nearby public conservation land would have a significant negative impact on the native species found here, and grazed tussock still burns very well, which is why stocks are lost in fast moving grass fires,” she said.

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