In the Rain Shadow
Mar 7, 2014
East of New Zealand's highest mountain ranges are the tussocklands: relatively dry and wide open hills and plains somewhat reminiscent of western North America's sagebrush country. The clumps of vegetation, however, are not sage but tussocky grasses, and the overall landscape, sweeping and dramatic as it appears, is not natural to New Zealand.
People, originally Polynesians and eventually Europeans, created tussocklands by burning off the original vegetation, which included dryland trees and scrub. In recent times, European immigrants created an environment in which tussocklands became more or less permanent features of the New Zealand landscape; this was accomplished by driving to extinction several species of animals, notably giant moa, that would otherwise keep tussock grasses under control and facilitate regrowth of the original forest.
Tussock grasses don't make good forage for domesticated animals, but they do help shelter tastier, tender imported grasses and legumes that might be planted there for sheep and cows. Thus, well-tended tussockland can become decent rangeland for livestock. And particularly well-tended tussockland, especially in warmer, lowland regions of New Zealand, can be developed into premium pastureland of the sort that generated a worldwide reputation for New Zealand wool and, recently, dairy products.