I wrote the grazing as "dirty dairying" article for the FMC Bulletin in response to the astounding assertion made by DOC's business revenue manager that grazing permits (concessions) were uncontroversial. The Greymouth Evening Star then got hold of it and got some even more astounding and unjustified comments from West Coast Conservator Mike Slater who also wrote to the FMC Bulletin. The article was "unbalanced" - yes I did not put the cattle point of view - "out of date" - a bit hard to be up to date when you report an application stalled for six years - "simplistic" - I plead guilty - DOC should simply do its job and get the cattle out.
Grazing - DOC's Dirty Dairying
Johnson, S. FMC Bulletin Vol. 153, pages 18-19, August 2003. Simon Johnson looks at the mess grazing concessions are causing in conservation lands and the poor way DOC manages them.
Put your hand up if you have had to walk through some land full of broom and gorse and cattle just to start your tramp in a national park or conservation area. Now keep your hand up and start jumping up and down if you knew that many of these grazed areas are supposed to be managed by DOC for conservation purposes and not for providing grazing.
DOC's management of grazing concessions is the DOC equivalent of "dirty dairying" in terms of gross environmental impacts, lack of enforcement and poor processes. Grazing in conservation areas has severe impacts - spread of weeds, no regeneration, trampling and defecating in streams, damage to wetlands, and damage from 'camping' in bush edges.
These three telling examples, of the adverse environmental effects and poor DOC management, are the tip of the grazing iceberg.
- Illegal grazing in the Taramakau River,
- The unlawful rollover of expired grazing concessions in Bullock Creek, and,
- The Haast Valley where a DOC decision on a grazing concession application has disappeared into a black hole for two and a half years.
The Taramakau River
The Taramakau River, route to Lake Kaurapataka, the Harper Pass and the Otehake River, was described in Wilderness Magazine recently as a 'sea of broom and gorse' It certainly was for me last November as I returned to Aickens car park after a long day from Koropuku (Big Tops) Hut and Townsend Hut.
In May 2003 a tramper reported 30 head of cattle two kilometres upstream of Locke Stream Hut (a days walk up the Taramakau River). The cattle had trashed some red beech and cedar forest. The cattle were also photographed defecating into a clear side stream.
Cattle near Locke Stream, Taramakau River, twenty kilometres within Arthurs Pass National Park.
I passed this on to DOC West Coast as an offence (section 39(1)(ca) of the Conservation Act 1987) and requested action.
The true left bank of the Taramakau River is Arthur's Pass National Park and the true right is conservation stewardship land, except for three small blocks of freehold land.
And there lies the problem. The freehold blocks are grazed by the owner, Eddy Evans of Aickens. The blocks are unfenced and the cattle effectively have free and illegal reign over the whole valley as there is no grazing concession for the Taramakau River flats. Apparently DOC is investigating the incident and discussing a grazing concession with Mr Evans.
However, the damage had already been done. Because of DOC's failure to restrict the grazing, most of the lower Taramakau River flats have become a sea of broom and gorse.
Bullock Creek is one entranceway to the Inland Pack Track and to Mt Bovis in Paparoa National Park. However mobs of one and two year old bulls grazing the flats, the streambed and are reported to be damaging giant rimu kahikatea and matai trees. The fencing that is supposed to contain the bulls is down in five places allowing the bulls to graze unhindered. Dozens of gorse bushes have crept in. DOC appears to have done no effective monitoring of the area.
As well as being a conservation disaster, Bullock Creek is a political can of worms. DOC issued a one-year grazing licence to John O'Connor, the brother of West Coast MP Damien O'Connor, in June 1993.
This licence expired almost nine years ago, but DOC has unlawfully let the grazing continue without a new application for a renewal.
There is no question that the grazing should end and that the Bullock Creek area should be reclassified as part of Paparoa National Park. Forest and Bird, the Buller Conservation Group and the West Coast Conservation are putting strong pressure on DOC for this unlawful concession to end and for the cattle to go.
Haast Valley River Flats
Who remembers Mr Cowan, the Haast farmer who in 1993 felled large rimu trees on his land alongside the Haast Highway contrary to the Forests Act 1993?
He also has an expired grazing licence for a 3,000-hectare area of river flats in the Haast Valley, from the river mouth to Clarke Bluff, for the princely sum of $350 per annum. It expired in June 1987 and is again unlawfully "running on" as the Conservation Act does not provide for this.
Mr Cowan applied in November 1987 for a new concession, without, of course, providing any assessment of the effects. However, some six years later, DOC still has not made a decision, and the cattle are still unlawfully in the Haast River flats. This is despite several reports documenting the effects of grazing on lowland forest - from Landcare, from an independent ecologist and from DOC staff - and despite lengthy submissions from Forest and Bird. The last action in the process was a hearing in February 2001. After a hearing no new information can be considered and a decision should be made promptly. After two and a half years, there is no decision, and the cattle are still there.
These examples show that, contrary to the view of one DOC manager, grazing concessions are controversial and do have unacceptable effects. Grazing is not well managed - the cattle should be out of conservation lands.
We don't have to put up with it. When you see cattle while you are tramping, take photos, take notes, record the location, check for browsing damage, and check the park boundaries. Get on to DOC, put it in writing and demand action,
DOC in Federated Mountain Clubs' sights
Greymouth Evening Star 3 September 2003 Top
The Department of Conservation's management of grazing concessions has earned the ire of Federated Mountain Clubs (FMC). And every piece of evidence FMC presents in its August bulletin is from the West Coast. "These three telling examples...are the tip of grazing iceberg," the organisation claims. But DOC has hit back angrily, calling the allegations simplistic, unbalanced and out of date. It has also pointed out many grazing practises on the Coast span 100 years, and have to be given fair consideration. FMC believes a lack of enforcement and poor processes has resulted in the spread of weeds, trampling, defecation in streams and damage to wetlands. "DOC's management of grazing concessions is the equivalent of "dirty dairying" in terms of gross environmental impacts..."
The group is now calling on members to catalogue damage, inform DOC and demand action.
At the Taramakau, it reports red beech and cedar forest have been trashed by cattle. Blocks of land are unfenced giving livestock an effectively "free and illegal reign".
In turn the lower river flats - on one side of Arthur's Pass National Park and the other conservation stewardship land - have become a sea of broom and gorse, it says. Bullock Creek in the Paparoas has also been damaged as fencing is down, FMC claims, and gorse has again crept in.
Further south, the Haast Valley River Flats also suffer the same problem although the impacts of grazing were documented and laid out at a hearing in February 2001. "After two and a half years, there is no decision, and the cattle are still there."
The article says in many cases there may even be a strong ecological argument that cattle should be out of conservation lands. DOC West Coast Conservator Mike Slater said today it was extremely disappointing to see the one-sided article, with no attempt to seek a balanced view or up to date information. "For instance, the Bullock Creek issue has been resolved by the farmer who is progressively de-stocking the area." In the Taramakau case, DOC has advised a neighbouring landowner to contain his cattle on his freehold property while permanent solutions such as fencing are considered, he said. And in the Haast, allegations the concession was taking too long ignored the fact in some cases grazing had been going on for more than a century.
"...Therefore we give each renewal application fair consideration - if that takes time, so be it." Mr Slater said the grazing concessions process considered environmental effects and included a public notification stage. DOC has robust processes in place, he said, including monitoring and a system to investigate tip-offs from the public.
FMC Bulletin Vol. 154, page 15, November 2003. Letters to the Editor Top
The Department of Conservation was very disappointed with the article published in the August 2003 FMC Bulletin which cites three West Coast grazing concessions as examples of adverse environmental effects and poor DOC management. I wish to assure FMC members that the allegations in the article by Simon Johnson were overly simplistic and inaccurate.
Mike Slater, West Coast Conservator, Department of ConservationHome