Caring for the land benefits all

Waikato Federated Farmers president James Houghton's unprovoked rant against trout, game birds and Fish & Game NZ in general was sadly reminiscent of the nonsense promoted by the federation's old guard.

What makes his latest outburst (Waikato Times, August 21) so unfortunate is that Fed's national president Bruce Wills, through his rational acceptance of agriculture's environmental impact, was making headway towards restoring some credibility to the farming lobby.

Whereas Mr Wills concedes the federation's former stance of denying farming's role in degrading our waterways, as well as their inane attempts to divert debate away from real issues, was only incurring the wrath of the public, Mr Houghton seems oblivious to the damage he's doing to both his organisation and the many farmers who are trying to reduce the sector's proven adverse impacts.

His attempts to blame trout and swans for biodiversity decline and water pollution are as laughable now as when they were first promoted by some of the former federation hotheads, those who dreamt up the idea in a straw-grasping attempt to dig their heels in against calls to improve the dairy sector's poor environmental performance.

Further expounding the flaws in Mr Houghton's criticism of Fish & Game's advocacy for introduced birds and waterfowl, and their environs, is his apparent disregard of the obvious fact that the country's entire agriculture sector is based on "alien" plants and animals, all of which have been established at the expense of indigenous species and habitats.

His struggle with accuracy, and credibility, doesn't end there. Neither trout nor Canada geese or swans are classed as "pests", as Mr Houghton claims; far from it, in fact, trout are a highly valued species to the tens of thousands of New Zealanders and overseas visitors who inject many millions of dollars into the economy annually in their recreational pursuit of this noble fish.

What's more, trout are widely regarded in the scientific community as the best indicator species of water quality, having the highest environmental requirements. Funnily enough, dairy farming is inversely proportional to trout tolerance - Mr Houghton is no doubt well aware of this.

Fish & Game's actions to defend trout and waterfowl habitat is determined by a statutory responsibility derived from Parliament to "manage, maintain and enhance" sports fish and game birds, and promote their associated recreational opportunities enjoyed by many farmers. It so happens that, as a result, our environmental advocacy is of benefit to all New Zealanders who enjoy unpolluted, free-flowing waterways. Who else stands up for the clean, green Kiwi brand? Certainly not Mr Houghton, it would seem.

In terms of having detrimental impacts on freshwater ecosystems, let's turn to fact-based evidence again to put Mr Houghton's absurd claims into perspective; there is a tome of peer-reviewed research pointing to intensive agriculture and poor farming practices, over many decades, as being the biggest contributor to water quality and biodiversity decline in this country.

And when you consider that New Zealand is now overrun with the dairy cow equivalent of 84 million humans, all defecating on barren fields with no treatment before it filters through into groundwater or runs off into streams, it's patently obvious where the real problem lies. So, to clearly spell it out for the benefit of Mr Houghton, it isn't our highly valued trout or game birds causing the damage.

Considering the woeful quality of his argument, one has to ask what is Mr Houghton's real gripe with Fish & Game's environmental advocacy? Is it because he doesn't appreciate opposition to a polluting industry, therefore enabling it to keep on doing what it has done for far too long?

If that is indeed the case, it's a great shame for New Zealand and a shame on Federated Farmers.

Bryce Johnson is chief executive of Fish & Game NZ

Waikato Times