Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage should work with Federated Farmers to manage fire risk vegetation, instead of taking "cheap shots," says Feds High Country chairman Rob Stokes.
Sage suggested yesterday that Federated Farmers was opportunistic in the wake of the Lake Ōhau fire, when it suggested the Department of Conservation land should go to passive grazing.
"Federated Farmers I think was making a push for free grazing," Sage said.
"It was a pretty interesting comment really. Just a cheap shot," Stokes told The Country's Jamie Mackay.
Today the Feds released a statement, in which Stokes said farmers weren'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."
The Feds had been warning about fire fuel loads on DoC land in the South Island for years, and while Stokes praised the government for its work on reducing wilding pines, he told Mackay there were still "thousands of acres of tussock land" that posed a risk.
"That needs to be grazed like it was in the past, for the last couple of hundred years," he said.
Federated Farmers recognised there were some areas of the DoC estate where it was totally inappropriate to have livestock.
However, in less sensitive areas, low numbers of sheep or cattle could keep combustible grass, scrub and immature wilding pine levels down.
Passive grazing didn't have to be intensive - there might be only one sheep per 20 hectares," Stokes said.
In a statement, the Feds said Australia, the UK and the USA had learned this lesson, but New Zealand seemed "to be going 180 degrees in the other direction".
The government needed to work with farmers when it came to managing conservation land, Stokes told Mackay.
"It's a work in progress. We've got to be all sitting around the same table ... and we've got to get it right."