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Wilding plan ‘just the tip of the iceberg’

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Government’s plan to put more muscle into the wilding pine war chest is welcome, but Federated Farmers says it will not be enough to win the battle.
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Chris Allen | September 09, 2020 from GlobalHQ on Vimeo.

A nationwide plan to tackle more than 800,000 hectares of wilding pine infestations over the coming year will generate up to 550 new jobs and help prevent future wildfires, according to Biosecurity Minister Damien O’Connor.

“We’re ramping up our wilding control activity in areas where jobs are needed most,” he said.

He says this includes a range of long-term projects led by regional councils and smaller-scale community partnerships.

It will see significant work throughout most of New Zealand – in Northland, across the Central North Island, in Marlborough, Nelson-Tasman, Queenstown, Otago and Southland.  

More than $17 million of work is allocated over 400,000 hectares of wilding infestations in Canterbury alone, including extensive infestations in Craigieburn and the Mackenzie.

Federated Farmers says it is a relief to see the Government has put more muscle behind a nationwide plan to tackle wilding pine infestations.

Government had already put $100m in the Budget this year for the Jobs for Nature programme. 

More than $36m of that funding will be spent in the next 12 months as part of a four-year programme.

That will see the work extended from 19 to 58 sites across NZ.

“We have watched this massive problem unfold over the last 30 years as the uncontrolled pines are slowly and quietly sown across the landscape,” Federated Farmers spokesperson for pest management Chris Allen said.

“It’s beyond many landowners to tackle the spread. This is a good start, but it’s just the tip of the iceberg in terms of what is really required for full eradication and control.”

More than $36m a year for four years on one pest gives an alarming insight as to just how much investment is required to take care of the land.

Allen says every year farmers spend a significant amount of money and time on controlling the other pests such as pigs, gorse, broom, hieracium, wild deer, wallabies and rabbits.

Feds is also worried about the legitimacy of so-called dryland parks as they have potential for enormous fire risk.

“Rank grass left ungrazed is a fire risk, the wilding is the fuel, and there is a great deal more to controlling this pest than simply trying to eradicate it,” Allen said.

“We need to consider the environment that allows them to thrive and look carefully at how land is managed in a sustainable way that benefits and protects people and property.

“To win the wildings battle, the war chest needs to be more like $25m a year and not limited to four years, then we may see some wins in terms of control,” Allen said.

O’Connor says wilding pine control is part of the Government’s commitment to provide economic support for people, with a significant environmental benefit.

“This is not necessarily about putting people into new careers,” he said.  

“It is about finding work for people now, while their sectors recover from covid-19.”

Wilding control is largely seasonal work, with some year-round operations. 

“This will allow companies to employ new people and to keep on existing staff,” he said.

O’Connor says New Zealanders can expect to see significant changes to the landscape as control activity increases.

“In many areas, like Queenstown and the Mackenzie Basin, we’ll be removing long standing infestations that have become a familiar part of the landscape,” he said. 

“People are inclined to think any tree has some value, but the recent fires near Lake Pukaki, only a few years after the devastating fires in Flock Hill, have shown that wilding pines threaten the ecosystem, the economy, and the community.

“Bringing this work forward allows us to tackle these pest plants early before they become a more significant problem.”

The National Wilding Conifer Control Programme began in 2016 and aims to contain or eradicate all wilding pine infestations by 2030. 

Led by Biosecurity NZ, the programme is a collaboration between central and local government, landowners, farmers, forestry owners, iwi, researchers, and community trusts.

The cost of unchecked wilding pine spread would reach $4.6 billion over 50 years, losing biodiversity, including many of NZ’s most sensitive landscapes and water catchments.

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