Proposal to pay for land protection

20:08, May 12 2013

A government-funded forum is proposing Mackenzie Basin landholders receive payment for setting aside land for protection.

The idea is a key platform of the Mackenzie Sustainable Futures Trust's vision document, released in Twizel yesterday. It has been nearly three years in the making, at a cost of more than $200,000.

Conservation Minister Nick Smith said the document balanced the needs of tourism, agriculture and conservation.

"I am delighted that the diverse groups have reached such a comprehensive agreement. The report proposes some real challenges, but there is a real sense of balance to it," Dr Smith said.

The document recommends the Government pass legislation to create a stand-alone trust consisting of seven members, jointly appointed by the ministers for the Environment, Primary Industries and Maori Affairs.

Rather than buying Mackenzie Basin land outright, the trust would reach agreements with private landowners or Crown pastoral lease-holders. Farmers could also receive a payment in return for managing, through either fencing or other means, land for conservation.

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Richard Thompson, who oversaw the consultation process, said such a regime recognised the inherent "costs" to landowners in protecting land.

"This proposal recognises that the community sees a wider value in conservation," he said.

More than 20 groups, including Forest and Bird, Federated Farmers and Fish and Game, as well as the Mackenzie and Waitaki district councils, have signed the document.

It is now up to the Government to consider whether it will draft legislation to establish the trust.

The document proposes 100,000ha of ecologically sensitive land in the Mackenzie, Omarama and Ohau basins could be protected through the trust's joint management agreements with landowners, the Government and councils. However, it does not identify where this would be located. It estimated it could cost about $3.7 million a year to manage this amount of land.

Most of the funding would have to come from the Government, but according to the document the trust would also seek money from private backers.

Ohau Snowfields owner-operator Mike Neilson said many of his season pass-holders indicated they were willing to pay extra if they knew some of the money would go towards protecting the basin.

The document also proposed that basin farmers who wished to open up their property to more intensive development could enter into agreements with the trust.

"We would encourage carefully staged and appropriate development. We don't want to shut the place up and turn it into a conservation zoo, but there is a recognition that the Mackenzie is regarded as nationally iconic," Mr Thompson said.

Green Party MP Eugenie Sage commended the forum's hard work, but felt the proposals were unnecessarily complicated, and ignored the role of the Department of Conservation.

She was also concerned that the document identified more than 25,000ha of the Mackenzie Basin floor to be freed up for irrigation.

"Intensive dairying should have no future in the Mackenzie basin if there is a serious commitment to protecting water quality," she said.

The Timaru Herald