Federated Mountain Clubs has written a comprehensive submission on the Crown Pastoral Land Reform Bill. The Bill makes significant changes to the Crown Pastoral Land Act 1998 and the Land Act 1948, which provide for Crown pastoral leases and their management. It was introduced to Parliament in July 2020.
The New Zealand high country is a jigsaw of Crown land, public conservation land, and freehold land. As at 2021, 1.2 million hectares of Crown land were in 171 pastoral leases for the purpose of grazing. This is just under 5% of New Zealand’s total land area. Part 2 of the Crown Pastoral Land Act enables the Commissioner of Crown Lands to review the ownership of land held under pastoral lease, by means of a process called tenure review.
Tenure review is voluntary and allows parts of a Crown pastoral lease with high conservation and recreational value to be returned to full Crown ownership as public conservation land, and other parts to be sold to the leaseholder. The process has had mixed results. One the one hand, large tracts of land have been returned to Crown ownership for the benefit of conservation and recreation. On the other hand, the freeholding side of tenure review has enabled environmental degradation and financial profiteering; this has caused widespread legitimate concern.
FMC has participated actively in individual tenure reviews and the wider process since its inception, and in 2003 published the document Freedom of the Hills: Unlocking High Country Recreation.
To remedy the problems associated with the process, in February 2019 the Government announced the end of tenure review. Shortly afterwards, Land Information Minister Eugenie Sage launched consultation on that and wider proposed changes to the Crown’s management of its South Island high country pastoral land. In April 2019, FMC submitted on the discussion document Enduring stewardship of Crown pastoral land.
Submissions on the Bill closed on 22 February 2021. It is currently with the Environment Select Committee.
FMC’s submission is summarized in the following points:
- FMC supports the bill’s proposed outcome of maintaining or enhancing the land’s inherent values.
- The land’s inherent values need to be defined carefully. Recreational values should be included in the definition of inherent values.
- Tenure review’s strongly positive aspect (ability to protect values by redesignating pastoral lease land as public conservation land) should not be thrown out in a single action in order to stop its well-understood downsides (environmental and financial profiteering). The Bill should be amended to provide for redesignation of Crown pastoral lease land as public conservation land, and for the negative aspects of freeholding as experienced in the tenure review process to be addressed by a range of nuanced means which should enable and embed the purpose of maintenance and improvement of the land’s ecological and landscape integrity.
- There needs to be a mechanism enabling removal of land unsuitable for pastoral use – Largely Class VIII and certain Class VII land – to be removed from pastoral leases andto be redesignated as public conservation land. This is a gap in both the existing and the proposed provisions.
- s60 proposed amendments should be further changed to enable public recreational access and to empower the Walking Access Commission and Fish and Game councils.
- Non-commercial recreation should be clearly identified as being permitted where it doesn’t involve activities listed as discretionary or prohibited..
- The strategic intentions document should also outline how the Commissioner is to improve public access to rivers, lakes and public land adjoining pastoral lease land regardless of whether statutory provision is to be made for review of tenure of pastoral leases.
- We urge reconsideration of the proposed $50,000 upper limit for damages, given that potential for harm to public values on pastoral leases, caused by breaches, has no such upper limit. Potential fines should be in line with those provided for by conservation and resource management legislation.
Photo at top: Blue Lake, Garvie Mountains, is part of Glenaray Station, which is currently undergoing tenure review. (c) Rob Brown