OPINION: The 1960s feminist slogan has it that "a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle".
Just how badly fish don't need bicycles – or at least riverside track construction for the bikes to ride on – has become a contentious issue at the consents hearing for the Southland District Council's proposed Around the Mountain cycle trail application.
The trail, which would be part of the Government's wider New Zealand Cycleway project, would go from Walter Peak to Kingston, through Mossburn, Lumsden, Athol and Garston.
Carefully constructed, this would be a good thing (just as, we might airily add, providing a faster service for tourists to get to Milford Sound without having to languish half their holiday on a bus would be a good thing.)
However, dark warnings have issued from critics about serious harm resulting to the Upper Oreti's celebrated trout fishery if this section of the cycleway goes ahead.
Critics contend that the fishery would be irrevocably damaged, even destroyed, by the carnage of such a project.
At times it seems that some of the objectors are picturing this not as the work of an authority minded to be careful about the environment, but as the dark wizardry of Christopher Lee's Saruman and his Orc-ish hosts, laying waste to great tracts of Middle Earth in The Lord of the Rings.
Which is not to deny that the council needs to prove its case.
The council should be chastened that the hearing's commissioner, Denis Nugent, yesterday stuck his hand out for more information. He wants more expert evidence about the construction strategy, and also about economic effects.
The council sought an adjournment but didn't get it. The hearing continued, and an extra day will be tacked on to the end instead. Long enough, surely, to marshal the information required, assuming that the case was diligently researched to begin with.
It certainly remains plausible that the track could be constructed without traumatising the river denizens. If some rocks are disturbed, for instance, this will be much to the delight of resident trout, uncovering worms and insects. After all, when dams are built, the trout population thrives conspicuously in the following few years because the tucker's so good.
People can be too precious. There's so much wilderness in the deep south that those wanting solitude can find it. Improved accessibility can open up more legitimate enjoyment to more people.
Cyclists aren't unwelcome interlopers into this environment and their entitlement to exult in it is not, inherently, less than that of anglers.
The leave-us-be fishermen attest that the track could simply follow the Mavora Lakes road. So it could. But that's a far less attractive proposition for the cyclists, by any measure.
Those who have come to fish point to a $2.5 million annual contribution to the region.
Acknowledged. But even if cyclists are not necessarily going to be as individually wealthy as some of those who come here to fly fish, there is ample evidence, such as the Otago Central Rail Trail, that they can come in sufficient numbers to represent significant economic benefit.
As for whether fish or bicycles bring a greater economic benefit, we remain unconvinced it's an either-or issue.
- The Southland Times
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