Local government supports concerted push against spread of wilding conifers

Local Government New Zealand (LGNZ) has announced its support for a national strategy to address the rapidly escalating threat of wilding conifers to both the environment and economy.

The spread of Wilding conifers is  forecast to cost New Zealand billions in economic losses over the coming decades, impacting on industries from agriculture to tourism.

The chair of LGNZ’s regional sector, Stephen Woodhead, said the wilding conifer issue is now so severe New Zealand cannot afford further delay taking concerted action to tackle the pest.

“We have reached a tipping point for wilding conifer control,” says Mr Woodhead.

“Wilding conifers are trees in places they are not supposed to be. They have been branded the number one pest in some regions.”

Wilding conifers occupy around 1.8 million hectares, or nearly 6 per cent, of New Zealand’s land area. The problem is at its worst in the South, particularly Otago, Marlborough, Canterbury, Queenstown and Southland. But the conifers are also spreading through certain areas of the North Island, such as the central plateau.

The potential economic impact isestimated at $1.2 billion over 20 years with the figure increasing exponentially after that.

“If we don’t mount a coordinated control effort now, there will be devastating long-term impacts for New Zealand’s environment and economy,” says Mr Woodhead.

“Despite active management and investment by landowners, regional councils, community organisations and other agencies, including a spend of $6.7 million by central and local government last year alone, wilding conifers are still spreading at a rate of 90,000 hectares per year. It is estimated that, without implementation of a national strategy, they will invade 20 per cent of New Zealand’s land area by 2035 and 40 per cent within 50-100 years.”

The windblown seeds from wilding conifer species which include pinus contorta and Douglas fir grow almost anywhere, taking root in vast numbers all over the country including high country farmland, crown estate and iconic landscapes highly valued by New Zealanders and tourists.

Wilding conifers suck up groundwater, exacerbating drought and fire risks. Their fallen needles form dense carpets taking a heavy toll on native flora and fauna and can affect freshwater habitats. In some places, the landscapes we treasure will be forever changed – replaced by a monoculture of wilding trees.

Local government wants to raise the profile of the wilding conifer threat amongst all New Zealanders.

Mr Woodhead said:

“If we start controlling wilding conifers now, the cost over a 15-year period will be an estimated $160-$180 million. This would reduce infestation to a level that they could be maintained from business as usual budgets. Any delay will increase the cost of control exponentially by $30-$50 million per year.

“Wilding conifers are in almost every area of New Zealand and the trees are spreading rapidly across the country threatening farmland, tussock landscapes, water availability, biodiversity and iconic tourist locations.

Like many weed pests, the public may not have been aware of the threat in the early stages of infestation. Mr Woodhead said.

But it was important that awareness of the urgency of this situation be raised along with the importance of prioritising funds to ensure a coordinated national approach to address it.

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