Owners key in war on wildings

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Tackling the spread of invasive trees and transforming the landscape is the aim of the Central Otago Wilding Conifer Control Group.

The Government provided funding of $100 million over four years to expand the national wilding conifer control programme.

The Central Otago group secured about $1.5 million of that, and allocated about $800,00 to be used next year.

Project manager Robin Pieper said wilding conifers or wilding pines spread their seeds over the landscape and could ‘‘really take hold’’ in the tussock grasslands of Central Otago.

‘‘The ultimate worst case disaster is having pine forests all over our high country landscape.’’

That caused problems for water yield and native biodiversity like alpine herb fields.

Left unchecked, the countryside could look like the highlands of North America, Miss Pieper said.

Groves of wilding pines left a dense layer of pine needles that choked off other species and could become a fire hazard.

Landowners were a key part of the programme as the group required a 20% contribution from them towards the cost of felling trees, she said.

If landowners had ‘‘skin in the game’’ it was important for them to understand the reasons why the trees had to be felled.

Large trees could be 100 years old and have a connection to early settlers, so education and awareness was part of the process.

Trees had millions of seeds, ‘‘so it really is having those hard conversations’’, Miss Pieper said.

‘‘Times do change and there are other trees that are probably more representative of the culture we are in now.’’

A focus for the group now was following up sites they had previously visited to ensure pines were not returning.

By connecting with groups like the Mokihi Trust in Cromwell and Te Kakano Aotearoa Trust in Wanaka, areas where wilding pines had been felled could be restored to native habitats, she said.

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