Government ramps up work to tackle wilding pine problem

The Government's ramping up efforts to control the country's biggest weed problem.

Projects to eradicate wilding pines have been given a $100 million boost - with the bulk of it going to Canterbury.

A massive wildfire near Lake Pukaki on August 31 left 3500 hectares of the Mackenzie Basin charred. The fire was fanned by strong winds and fuelled by wilding pines.

"It was a perfect storm," says Steve Palmer, Environment Canterbury special projects biosecurity advisor. "Really dense infestation, a fire and we just hadn't got there with the programme yet."

It's leading to calls for more urgency in eradicating the weed.

"If we allow these to keep spreading they are going to potentially increase the intensity of these wildfires," says Sherman Smith, Ministry of Primary Industries (MPI) manager of long term programmes.

Wilding pines are a $4.6 billion threat to the economy. Within 30 years they could cover more than a quarter of the country.

"They shade out pretty much everything underneath them, they become a monoculture of wilding conifers, they displace the native plants that would be there, they make the habitat unsuitable for native animals," Smith warns.

Palmer agrees, calling it a "shocking weed".

Building on the Government's initial funding back in 2016, Budget 2020 allocated $100 million to a four-year control programme.

This will see $36 million spent nationwide over the next year. Out of this, $17 million is being spent in Canterbury, covering 400,000 hectares including the Mackenzie Basin and Banks Peninsula.

"It's a 38-to-one investment so for every dollar you spend on management you get $38 of benefit," says Manaaki Whenua senior researcher Dr Duane Peltzer.

It's expected 550 more jobs will be created, whether on the ground with a chainsaw or in the air spraying from a helicopter.

"Immediately took on 73 people straight after lockdown - good for the environment, good for the economy as well," Palmer says.

A problem that's been growing for decades, now in for the chop.