Editorial: Where the wildings are

QE11 National Trust.

Three weeks ago QLDC announced a post-coronavirus project called In The Wild. This initiative, driven by ecology-based groups in the district, involves funding in conjunction with the Department of Conservation (DOC) to provide jobs eradicating feral animals, broom and gorse…and wilding pines.

There had been "great support from the government here," Mayor Jim Boult had said.

Then last week DOC announced a scheme to provide 160 jobs in 55 biosecurity and conservation projects in Northland, East Coast, Hawke's Bay and Canterbury. Otago will follow shortly DOC said.

Sometimes called New Zealand's number one pest, wilding pines overwhelm our native landscapes, kill native plants and force native animals out of their habitats. Wildings are also a threat to farmland. Underneath them, the grass won't grow, leaving nothing for stock to feed on. They suck up a considerable amount of water. They are self-seeded and not intentionally planted. Once they get established, they spread like wildfire. You only need to take the drive from Queenstown to Glenorchy to see the effect of runaway wilding pines and how they have transformed the landscape.

I wrote a lot on wilding pines when I was a farming reporter for Fairfax. The wilding pine issue has always been an interest of mine so I keep a close eye on developments.

Without governmental intervention, wilding pines will spread to 7.5 million hectares of our most vulnerable land within 30 years. According to DOC, 5 per cent more of the high country is being covered by wildings every year.

Due to early neglect, the spread of wildings has increased exponentially since about 1990. The areas of established thickly wooded wilding forest are still relatively small - a few hundred thousand hectares. But another 1.5 million hectares are now liberally sprinkled with seedlings and saplings.

It's that bad, that dramatic.

But heartening news, Over the past five years, the first and second phases of the Wilding Conifer Management Strategy 2015-2030 have eradicated over two million hectares of wildings and searched the surrounding land for remote outliers. Within the 1.5 million hectare area covered during 2018 and 2019 (the timeframe in which I was reporting on the story) more than half a million hectares had been controlled mainly in the Craigieburn Basin and the Mackenzie Country. 

 The Waimakariri Basin of which the Craigieburn area is part of was one of the success stories of the first phase. Despite a previous spend of $300,000 a year the government and local groups had struggled to contain wilding spread from old erosion control plantings from the 1950s to 1980s. The spread threatened productive farmland, and recreational areas and was a blot on the landscape. Around $2 million of wilding control programme funds allowed a concentrated effort to get on top of the problem, and now farmers have regained use of their pastoral land and Arthurs Pass National Park and Korowai/Torlesse Tussocklands have been protected from invasion.

Further south a massive 137,000 hectares of the Godley area of the Mackenzie Basin had been cleared.

So here's hoping that these new initiatives will have an impact on the wildings of the Queenstown Lakes District, before it's too late. Maybe we will enjoy native tussock land again rather than conifer forest on the drive up to Glenorchy.

Read edition 976 of the Wānaka Sun here.


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