Monday, 30 October 2023 15:55

Wilding conifers a legacy issue - forest owners

Written by  Staff Reporters
PCE Simon Upton told the Wilding Pines Network Conference in Queenstown earlier this month that there was a need for ongoing investment into the control of pest plants, including wilding conifers. PCE Simon Upton told the Wilding Pines Network Conference in Queenstown earlier this month that there was a need for ongoing investment into the control of pest plants, including wilding conifers.

Forest owners welcome the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment’s acknowledgement that the presence of wilding conifers across New Zealand is largely a legacy issue.

However, the New Zealand Forest Owners Association is cautioning against placing costs on foresters who are already investing in wilding control.

The comments come after PCE Simon Upton told the Wilding Pines Network Conference in Queenstown earlier this month that there was a need for ongoing investment into the control of pest plants, including wilding conifers.

He noted that the wilding issue is tied back to historical government policy settings and activities around forest planting strategies and goals such as erosion control.

Upton told conference attendees that a recent released cost analysis showed that approximately $140 million would be needed between 2022 and 2030 would be needed to maintain control of wilding pines on sites where work had already commenced.

“However, this was not what was provided,” Upton says. “In the event, the ongoing funding provided from this year amounts to a mere $10 million per annum – well short of what would be needed to ‘seal the deal’.”

He says a recently announced one-off funding injection of a further $7 million to be spent this year is welcome and should reduce the impact of the funding drop.

However, he adds that the original decision to invest was not the result of a careful analysis and was instead “an opportunistic attempt to kill two birds with one stone”.

Upton says the Jobs for Nature programme, which forms the workforce for some of the Government’s pest control schemes like the Wilding Conifer scheme, is about the short-term.

“Environmental problems are almost always about the long term,” he says. “If the purpose was to create some employment, the chances of securing that environmental investment in the long term were always slim.”

“I feat we will learn in due course that other Jobs for Nature projects have similar ‘boom and bust’ profiles. Such initiatives rarely produce good outcomes.”

Upton also pointed out that the control of wilding conifers and other pest species is not solely reliant on Crown funding.

“Private landowners, regional councils, hydro power generators and some forestry companies have at different times and in different places contributed – either through direct funding or in-kind support – to wilding conifer control efforts,” he says.

“Radiata pine and Douglas fir are widely grown in plantations in New Zealand for their timber,” he says. “Many other exotic conifer species have been the subject of widespread planting over the years, notably during the large-scale revegetation efforts of the 1960s and 70s.”

Upton says the governments of that era attempted to manage high-country erosion through the mass aerial spreading of conifer seeds.

“It was a classic case of governmental action leading to unintended consequences. Not only was the problem misunderstood, but the solution was ineffective and has been harmful to both productive and native ecosystems in ways those involved at the time never imagined.”

Forest Owners Association (FOA) chief executive, Dr Elizabeth Heeg, says the statement confirms that the wilding issue isn’t solely the result of forestry activities.

“There is a widespread misconception that contemporary commercial plantation forestry blocks are responsible for the invasive spread of wilding species,” Heeg says.

“Contemporary plantation foresters often shoulder the blame for wilding spread when we know it is predominantly due to historical policy decisions and legacy plantings used for farm shelter belts and the likes,” she says.

“These legacy species, such as lodgepole pine, disperse seeds more easily and can rapidly invade and cause dense forests.

“Although Douglas fir is a problem in some areas, plantings are generally well managed by the industry, and other prominent wilding species are no longer used in contemporary plantations.

"The sector has advanced its knowledge of these risks significantly in recent years and carefully manages plantation forests to minimise the risk of spreading species beyond boundaries."

Heeg says foresters take their pest control obligations seriously.

“All are bound by the NES-CF [National Environmental Standard for Commercial Forestry], and the majority do the right thing by working with neighbours and the community,” she says.

“Where there is spread, the residual risk is managed with surrounding landowners, to the extent that many foresters are voluntarily controlling legacy problems on neighbouring properties.”

She says the sector is concerned that foresters will continue to shoulder the blame and the cost for the spread of legacy species.  

“Many forestry companies voluntarily invest a significant amount of their time and money into proactively controlling the spread of wilding species each year.”

Heeg says the sector strongly advocates for greater Crown funding for the wilding species programme while acknowledging that the current wilding conifer issue is largely a result of historical policy decisions and non-plantation sources.

“Technologies such as gene editing and remote sensing could offer a major step forward for preventing and managing the spread of wilding conifers; but ultimately, combatting wilding spread will require ongoing collaboration from all and the government to take an active, lead role,” she concludes.

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