Wilding pine issue ‘serious’

The Otago Regional Council (ORC) has held a slew of talks about wilding pines since being lambasted by Conservation Minister Maggie Barry for inaction, but more work is to be done, it says.

Council chairman Stephen Woodhead this week said Otago was facing a ”serious issue” over the spread of the trees.

The problem already affected 300,000ha of Otago land and was estimated to be spreading about 5% a year, effectively adding at least 15,000ha a year to the affected area, he said.

He agreed with those long concerned about it that the spread of wilding trees had many implications, including affecting landscape views, interfering with agriculture and reducing water availability for other purposes.

If the ORC was to take a larger role in countering wilding trees, ”the only way it will be successful” was if it was part of a much wider-ranging partnership, including the Crown providing funding to support its now unfunded National Wilding Strategy.

Some ORC funding could be provided through its next annual plan, and might ”start off at a reasonably low level”, he added.

In mid-September, Conservation Minister Maggie Barry urged the ORC to ”step up to the plate” and take action on wilding trees.

Speaking at a launch in Queenstown of a community programme for controlling the pest plant, Ms Barry said the ORC was ”dragging the chain”.

Otago Regional Councillor Gerry Eckhoff earlier told an ORC meeting it was ”regrettable” the ORC had not already earmarked funding to support community groups to remove wilding trees.

Asked about growing criticism of the ORC, Mr Woodhead said early intervention was important, and deferring this would mean a bigger area of spread, and individual plants becoming harder to remove.

The ORC was considering taking action not because of Ms Barry’s criticism, but because this was now an appropriate time, including because the National Wilding Strategy had been completed.

He, with ORC manager biosecurity and biodiversity Jeff Donaldson, had recently discussed wilding conifer issues with with mayors and chief executives of the Dunedin City Council, Queenstown Lakes District Council, Clutha District Council and Central Otago District Council.

ORC deputy chairwoman Cr Gretchen Robertson had also joined Mr Donaldson to visit the Waitaki District Council.

Meetings had also been held with representatives of the Wakatipu Wilding Trust and Central Otago Wilding Trust, with forestry sector representatives, and there had been discussions with relevant Government agencies.

The talks had been a ”good start” but there was more work to be done, he said.

The council intended to post a public information page about the wilding conifer problem on its website mid-November and would seek feedback on the issue through the Dunedin City Council’s People’s Panel in late November.

In December the ORC would start considering its annual plan and what funding for looking at the problem might be included in that.