8 Oct 2014

Wilding pines 'destroying habitat'

6:45 am on 8 October 2014

A group trying to battle wilding pines in the Queenstown area has a strong message for incoming Conservation Minister Maggie Barry.

High-country farmland invaded by exotic pine trees, Clarence River, near Hanmer Springs.

High-country farmland invaded by exotic pine trees. Photo: PHOTO NZ

Members of the group want more money from the Government. They say some of New Zealand's most iconic vistas are at the crossroads and face being lost forever.

The enthusiastic team, which calls itself the Wakatipu Wilding Conifer Control Group, has raised and spent millions in the past few years removing hundreds of thousands of exotic trees that are slowly consuming the alpine hinterland.

But while many government agencies were contributing towards the cost of eradication, the control group's co-chair Grant Hensman said the Government needed to take a stronger lead.

He said he was sending a message to the new Conservation Minister.

Maggie Barry

Maggie Barry Photo: SUPPLIED

"I would say to her, Maggie, you are aware of the problem, you need to get support at national level, at government level, and you need to feed that funding and, more importantly, leadership on down to control it," Mr Hensman said.

Others were being called on to step up as well.

The former Electricity Department, which planted thousands of pines throughout areas such as the MacKenzie Basin, had left a legacy that was slowly destroying the original habitat.

Meridian and Contact 'obligated'

Queenstown businessman and philanthropist Sir Eion Edgar said companies formed out of the Electricity Department, such as Meridian and Contact Energy, have an obligation to fix the problem.

In the future it is predicted the trees will consume 25 percent of the water needed for hydro generation.

"If they allow the land around them to be continually infested with pines and in increasing numbers, for them it's a small amount to pay to knock all their land and get rid of all the pines," Mr Edgar said.

DoC chief hears message

The Director-General of the Department of Conservation, Lou Sanson, told the members of the group he had heard their message for more support "loud and clear".

He said he would now take that message to the new minister.

Director General of the Department of Conservation, Lou Sanson.

Director General of the Department of Conservation, Lou Sanson. Photo: Department of Conservation

"It really is getting a concerted strategy lined up with local government, ourselves, Ministry for Primary Industries, farmers. We've even got to look at research and how do we get tree stocks that don't infest with so many seeds," Mr Sanson said.

He said the spread of trees increases fire risk and consumes large amounts of water, and he believed the maths added up and it was worth investing in removing wilding pines.

Significant success in controlling the pines is being claimed by the Wakatipu group.

Co-chair Peter Willsman said in the past year many hundreds of volunteers, helicopter pilots and DoC workers have removed thousands of hectares of trees.

"It's not the dollars you've spent, but what you've accomplished in the hectares you've covered," Mr Willsman said.

This coming year the group intends to spend $1.4 million as it continues its fight to preserve the tussock lands of the Wakatipu region.