How much high country land has Labour acquired?
In 2002, the Labour-led government set its sights on acquiring 1.3 million ha of tussock grassland from pastoral leases in the South Island high country (about 60% of the 2.19 million ha of land in pastoral lease in January 2002).
This was to be done largely through tenure review and outright property purchases.
By 31 May 2008, 56 of 303 leases had completed tenure review and nine had accepted substantive proposals from the Crown. From these properties, 48% of the land (165,266 ha) had been or was to be bought by the Crown from the lessee and 52% (189,539 ha) by the lessee from the Crown.
Four leases totalling 49,242 hectares – Twin Burn, Michael Peak, Birchwood and Hakatere Stations – had been bought outright by the Crown. In addition, the government declined to renew the Mount Ida “Soldiers’ Settlement” grazing licence in Otago – a further 8401 ha.
In summary, between 2002 and May 2008 the Crown transferred 229,909 hectares of high country pastoral farmland to the conservation estate. All this land, plus the 180,000 hectare Molesworth Station that has been transferred from Landcorp, has to be maintained by the Department of Conservation – a department that struggles to protect endangered species on its existing estate.
The purchase of St James Station adds a further 78,196 hectares to the Crown estate and takes the total area transferred to DoC to 488,105 hectares — an area 2.6 times the size of Stewart Island (185,000 ha).
Most observers would conclude that such a major transfer of land out of productive use must be justified on ecological grounds. This is not the case. An independent review for the Department of Conservation states that high altitude tussock grasslands are well-represented in the DoC estate. Other research shows that low intensity grazing systems are both sustainable and help control weeds.