Taxpayers spend $362,000 on a kilometres-long fence to keep a farmer’s cattle from a national park. David Williams of Newsroom reports
It’s a proud and straight-forward statement.
“There is no stock grazing within Fiordland National Park,” the park’s 2007 management plan says. The problem is it’s not true – and the Department of Conservation knew it.
The park plan states the last bastion of grazing in the national park was sheep in the Eglinton Valley – that is, until a deal was struck in 1998 to remove them.
What the park plan doesn’t state, but DoC admits now, is that deal with Te Anau Downs Station contained a very important caveat.
“This agreement noted the inevitability of cattle accessing the national park until a boundary along the Eglinton River was fenced,” DoC’s Te Anau operations manager John Lucas said in a statement on Friday afternoon.
Newsroom knew this already because Te Anau Downs Station owner Peter Chartres sent us that exact quote a day earlier.
It took until August of this year – 23 years after the sheep-excluding agreement was signed – for a 14.5km fence to be completed. Lucas confirms taxpayers paid for all of it – a cost of $361,639.
And the cattle are still able to access the national park, for now. Te Anau Downs has until the end of March to remove them, Lucas says – again, something Chartres had already disclosed.
“The cattle are grazing on exotic grass which was established there when this area formed part of Te Anau Downs Station,” Chartres emailed on Thursday, adding “The area has been extensively grazed since 1859.”
That may be the case, but the national park plan says the department will take action to prevent “illegal grazing of stock and other domestic animals”. “Where Fiordland National Park adjoins freehold land, which is grazed, effective control of stock will be sought through discussions with landowners and appropriate fencing.”
The situation in the Eglinton raises several questions.
Can DoC seek side agreements that seemingly flout its own national park management plan? Can cattle graze without a licence, a potential breach of the department’s general policy for national parks?
Has DoC monitored the damage done by Te Anau Downs’ cattle on native species in the park? (DoC didn’t answer this question.) And isn’t paying for the fence setting a terrible precedent by paying for a fence to keep someone else’s stock from entering a national park?
It certainly seems to jar with a decision taken earlier this year by DoC director-general Lou Sanson to cancel a controversial grazing lease in South Westland, after the farming family that held the lease in the upper Haast River valley argued a requirement to fence their cattle out of the Mt Aspiring National Park was expensive and impractical.
“It’s a form of negligence,” says environmental activist Angus Robson, of Matamata, who has taken an interest in the activities of Te Anau Downs Station. He accuses DoC of folding to avoid a showdown.
“Chartres is renowned in that district for making life difficult for regulatory agencies – whether they be regional councils or district councils or DoC or anybody else – they just take the easy way out. And it’s not their money.”
Fiordland National Park is the country’s biggest, spanning more than 1.2 million hectares. It was formally constituted in 1952, and is part of Te Wāhipounamu – South West New Zealand World Heritage Area.