10 March 2010

Mackenzie Basin, near Omarama

Better as lush green pasture for intensive dairying?

It might not look like much — sere, sparsely vegetated and riddled with rabbits and weeds — but for many visitors the seemingly desolate landscape of the Mackenzie Basin has a particular kind of beauty. Moreover, as ecologist Susan Walker points out, "The Mackenzie Basin supports the highest-density area of naturally rare ecosystems of any region in New Zealand of similar size." Remove the grazing pressure and the native vegetation returns; it might take a decade or two but this long period before the recovery begins seems to be characteristic of this kind of ecosystem.

But a small group of businessmen/farmers wants to change the Mackenzie Basin. They propose extensive irrigation over thousands of hectares to provide feed for intensively housed dairy cattle, with the resulting effluent used as fertiliser. The proposal threatens not just this landscape (appreciated by the huge number of tourists who pass through on their way to Aoraki/Mt Cook and further south) but also New Zealand’s image as a place where contented cows graze freely in the fresh, clean air; it threatens the rivers and lakes, partly through the water take and partly through nutrient runoff (each day, the amount of waste produced would be the equivalent of a city of about a quarter of a million people); and it threatens a richly diverse ecosystem. The benefits, despite the assurances of the proponents that the environment will be better off, will accrue largely to that handful of farmers and businessmen (some of whom have already been prosecuted successfully for illegally discharging dairy effluent from farms in other areas).

The good news is that the proposal faces huge opposition from diverse sectors, and an independent Board of Inquiry will assess the proposal. Unfortunately, issues relating to the intensive housing of cattle (cruelty, health, etc.) won’t be considered, but at least there’s still hope for a wonderful part of Aotearoa.

All content © 2010 Pete McGregor


Ruahines said...

Kia ora Pete,
Thanks for this. The battles have well and truly begun, with a business friendly government behind them, the odds seem stacked.
In regards to the photo, it struck me immediately as if I was reading a Crump book, Hang on a Minute Mate, and looking down the road to who knows what next adventure, but always that sense of the back country lurking nearby.
We need a lot more Good Keen Men, and Women, on the side the wilderness still left. Kia kaha.

butuki said...

Why oh why oh WHY are there always people who want to develop things that way? It's like a particularly tenacious disease that has absolutely no regard for its own survival.

On my many very long bicycle travels there are so many times I've lain the bicycle down on the verge of the road and sat amidst the weeds munching on lunch... a comforting scene for me, bringing back good memories.

I'm going to be starting up bicycle touring again this year, dreaming of far off places...

(appropriate word verification today: "surli")

pohanginapete said...

Cheers Robb, and thanks for all your good efforts. This at least is one fight I feel more optimistic about, but we can't afford to be complacent.

Miguel, it's such a shame those people don't have their own planet instead of ruining ours. On the other point, cycling through the Mackenzie Basin often isn't for the faint-hearted. While the Basin itself has few hills and the road's good, the climate's harsh: from searing heat to bitter cold. But that's part of truly living in the world, I suppose, and munching lunch in a place like this, with so much room to breathe, would take a lot of beating.