There is strong public interest in how the 1.2 million hectares of Crown pastoral land in the South Island high country is managed.
It's no surprise given that these lands encompass some of Aotearoa New Zealand's most dramatic landscapes - from developed grassy river flats, to low tussock and matagouri shrublands, to scree slopes.
Some leases are in big braided-river valleys, being farmed beneath big skies and against the backdrop of Kā Tiritiri o te Moana, the Southern Alps.
This week the New Zealand Herald published a few bold claims from Philip Todhunter about what the Crown Pastoral Land Reform Bill means for high-country leaseholders.
Here's an outline of what it actually does and doesn't do.
Firstly, it ends tenure review, which has seen variable outcomes for the Crown and has led to intensive agricultural development and subdivision on some freeholded land. The bill aims to ensure remaining Crown pastoral land is administered in a way that maintains or enhances its ecological, landscape, cultural heritage, and scientific values for present and future generations, while providing for ongoing pastoral farming.
Secondly, the bill clarifies and improves the current regime of getting permission from the Commissioner of Crown Lands for activities other than grazing. The bill is not intended to prevent pastoral farming or recreational activities.
Rather it aims to ensure that activities such as burning, spraying and cultivation, which can destroy indigenous shrublands and grasslands, are better managed; and avoid inappropriate activities such as draining wetlands and seeps.
We have a nature crisis, and dryland areas such as the grey shrublands of inland Canterbury and Central Otago are home to threatened plant species, and have been badly affected by past cultivation, burning and spraying. We need to sustain the tussocks and native shrubland communities that remain.
While some leaseholders have helped to protect landscape values and areas of native vegetation through conservative stocking regimes and controlling broom, wilding conifers and other weeds and pests, others continue to burn shrublands and tussock.
The bill makes it easier for leaseholders to carry out low-impact activities such as fencing, through a schedule of day-to-day activities which don't need the commissioner's consent.
Permitted activities include soil disturbance to dig in fence posts; controlling exotic invasive plant pests (provided no more than 200m2/ha of indigenous vegetation is affected); riparian planting using indigenous species; and maintaining existing consented cultivation.
There is no change to leaseholders' tenure, their right to pasturage, quiet enjoyment, or their perpetual rights of renewal.
These lands are Crown lands so the bill provides for more transparent decision-making, and stronger accountability to the public. The commissioner has to publish a statement of expectations which the public can comment on. There are also new reporting obligations on Linz and the Commissioner of Crown Lands.
Throughout the process, the Government has sought to be as transparent as possible. This included proactively releasing the Cabinet policy paper which formed the basis for the bill so stakeholders could contribute their views.
At the same time under this Government, the Crown is being a much better neighbour in terms of pest and weed control. Budget 2020 provided an additional $100 million over four years for wilding conifer control; an extra $27m to control wallabies; and additional funding to Linz for weed and pest control in Crown-owned riverbeds and for aquatic weed control in Lakes Dunstan, Wakatipu and Wanaka.
The bill is being considered by Parliament's Environment Select Committee with a public submission and hearing process. These can lead to changes in the bill. The usual select committee process occurs over some months, so there is ample time for submissions.
- For more information and to make a submission see here.
• Eugenie Sage is the Minister of Conservation and Minister for Land Information.