Experts in controlling wilding pines are becoming increasingly worried all the work done in recent years to eliminate pines in the wrong places will be lost as funding is cut too soon, before work is complete.
The Wilding Pine Network has launched an advocacy campaign to address this funding reduction which takes effect at the end of the 2023 financial year.
“We were very fortunate in the 2020 budget to get $100 million over four years but we’re now looking at a 40 percent decrease in our funding,” WPN chairperson Richard Bowman says.
In the last three years Richard says “enormous” progress has been made to deal efficiently with wildings via relationships with contractors, project managers and landowners.
“They’ll have to be laid off, which is a great shame when you’re just starting to win the battle.”
While planted conifers are a useful resource, wilding conifers are pests which negatively affect the integrity of native forests, compete for water runoff used in hydroelectricity generation and intrude on high country farmland.
Left uncontrolled, their seeds spread over huge areas and are difficult to eradicate once established.
Efforts to manage wildings are currently funded via an MPI programme named ‘the right tree in the right place’, aiming to prevent the spread and contain or eradicate established areas by 2030.
Over half the wilding population has received at least one round of control work since phase one began in 2015 at a funded cost of $140m to date.
To guide phase two of their programme in 2018 MPI commissioned a cost-benefit analysis of three different example scenarios ranging from zero control to comprehensive control.
It concluded while benefits of control outweighed costs by an enormous margin, some diminishing returns became evident as control moved closer to the comprehensive extreme of the spectrum.
It also noted “if the objective is to reach a point where wilding conifers can be sustainably managed … it is better to act swiftly and decisively now.”
According to Richard Bowman this analysis was updated last year but not released by Biosecurity Minister Damien O’ Connor.
Biosecurity NZ National Wilding Conifer Control Programme Manager Sherman Smith recognises the importance of the issue.
“It would be nice to sustain the momentum we’ve gained,” Sherman says.
“The sooner you get on top of wildings the cheaper the overall programme cost is. We’ll be working on what the options are into the future”.
North Otago high country farmer Simon Williamson sees wilding control benefits first-hand and says to cut funding now would be wasteful.
“In the Central Lakes area the programme has done a fantastic job curtailing seed sources. In another three to six years they will have made a huge hole in the population.
“Farmers have some tools available but they’re largely ineffective.
“It’s soul-destroying killing trees you know have seeded from your neighbour’s property.
“It’d be a massive waste of money if they didn’t complete the job.”
Federated Farmers has continued to support the efforts of the WPN and routinely calls on the government to review its funding of the control programme.
“The reduction of control effort funding represents a risk to vulnerable land and therefore New Zealand’s future productivity,” Federated Farmers General Manager Policy and Advocacy Gavin Forrest says.
“One of the potential tools in the toolbox is the development of infertile trees – these have the dual benefit of stopping the spread from new plantings and increased woody growth.”