Threatened high country species risk loss under massive freeholding proposal

15 Nov 2012

Thousands of hectares of high altitude tussock grassland and valley floor shrublands have been proposed for freeholding on Omarama Station.

Sir Alan Mark, 1400m up, in an area proposed for freehold under a QEII covenant on Omarama Station Pastoral Lease.

Sir Alan Mark, 1400m up, in an area proposed for freehold under a QEII covenant on Omarama Station Pastoral Lease.

This land, at the southern entrance to the Mackenzie Country, was previously identified by the Department of Conservation (DOC) as having significant inherent values that warranted return to full Crown ownership and Crown-control under the Crown Pastoral Lands Act.

However, after controversial changes to the government’s high country policy, DOC changed its advice and accepted the freeholding proposal with the continuation of two QEII covenants and two new conservation covenants.

The proposed covenants enable ongoing grazing, albeit at low stocking levels, and the addition of fertiliser. Public access will be restricted to narrow easements. The proposal includes two small conservation reserves, totalling a mere 161ha out of the 8,781ha station.

Forest & Bird Otago/Southland Field Officer Sue Maturin says the areas proposed for freeholding with covenants have outstanding conservation values, identified by DOC experts. “These areas should be retired from grazing, and added to the public conservation estate.  Continued grazing of such high altitude lands up to 1600m is also unlikely to be ecologically sustainable.”

“Grazing will reduce the health of the tussock grasslands and shrublands by preventing regeneration. It will reduce the height and strength of plants, and alter species composition.” Any fertiliser added to the land will disadvantage native plants as nutrients tend to favour exotic species, Sue says.

The area spans three ecological districts and contains some of the best remaining stands of narrow leaved snow tussock in the Omarama Basin. It’s home to rare plants such as the threatened Carmichaelia kirkii, as well as threatened lizards and invertebrates.

Sue says the proposal lacks any evidence that the covenants will meet the requirements of the Crown Pastoral Lands Act, and is at odds with the Act’s preference for returning land with conservation values to full Crown ownership and control, rather than covenants.

Forest & Bird opposes this tenure review and has submitted that all the proposed covenant areas be returned to full Crown ownership as conservation areas.

You can help protect these high conservation areas by writing a letter or email to the Minister of Conservation, Kate Wilkinson at Freepost, Private Bag 18888, Parliament Buildings, Wellington 6160 or with Minister of Land Information Maurice Williamson in the ‘cc’ field,