Does Auckland Council need to own cows?

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Council is in the process of finalising its Regional Parks Management Plan, a document designed to guide the management of Auckland’s regional parks over the next decade and beyond. A draft has been published and public submissions have been called for and received.

The topic is of particular interest out west. The Waitakere Ranges Regional Park is about 40% of the size of the total for all regional parks and many Waitakere villages are nestled near to or adjacent to regional park land.

Sandra Coney has done sterling work in analysing and identifying problems with the plan. There have been a number of spirited submissions from groups and individuals out west. The hearing process should be interesting.

There was one aspect of the draft report that attracted my attention. Council still use cattle on its farms and for some time I have wondered why. Because council owned cows and sheep contribute a significant proportion of Council’s greenhouse gas emissions.

The draft plan says this:

We currently have nearly 1500ha over 18 parks in pasture, managed as sheep and cattle farming. Farm related emissions make up approximately 20 per cent of the council’s emissions profile, being 5300 tonnes of CO2 equivalent greenhouse gases in 2020/21. This is 80 per cent methane from animals, 20 per cent from fertiliser use.

Our funded position retains a similar level of farmed open space throughout the next decade, with revegetation of a portion of the space resulting in a lower emissions level of 10 per cent of methane in line with our 2030 methane target.

Over the longer term, we expect some 400-500ha of regional parkland would remain in grass or similar low, open vegetation, in order to retain views from ridgelines and headlands, protect cultural heritage sites, and provide open areas for events and other recreational activities. Within these areas, grazing is likely to be the best land management option so visitors would continue to be able to see farm animals and farm operations in multiple parks and examples of farming heritage would remain.

The long-term vision for the remaining approximately 700ha of farmland hangs in the balance. Currently we propose in this draft Plan to continue to farm them. The alternative would be to seek funding from others to support revegetation of up to a total of 1000ha in the decade.

Council has a goal of halving the Auckland region’s greenhouse gas emissions within the next decade. A good start would be for the Council to halve its own emissions, preferably sooner than that. And getting rid of cattle would get Council nearly half way there.

This is a challenging and difficult discussion but I think Council should get out of the farming business. There is an argument for retention of Ambury Farm in Mangere, which I support, but elsewhere I think that the cattle should go.

Much of the area should be reforested. Established forests are great carbon sinks and the more we have the better. And I find the view of a forest just as appealing if not more appealing than an open field. The Waitakere Ranges is extensively forested. With sufficient will and resources the rest of the region could be similar.

For the region to cut its CO2 equivalent emissions by half within the next decade will require all sorts of steps to be taken. As a crude example we would need to drive half as much as we currently do and have half the number of cows and sheep. Getting rid of cattle whose job is essentially to keep the grass short to me is an easy first step to take.



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