(From ODT 12 January 2016 – See ODT site)
Campaigner for wilding conifer control Grant Hensman has welcomed a change of approach by the Otago Regional Council.
“We appreciate their change of direction,” Mr Hensman said.
At the launch of a community initiative to control pest plants on the slopes above Queenstown last September, the ORC came under fire from Conservation Minister Maggie Barry.
Ms Barry urged the council “step up to the plate” and take action, and said it had been “dragging the chain” over wilding conifers.
She warned that, if left uncontrolled, wilding trees were predicted to spread across 20% of the country within two decades, costing the economy more than $1.2 billion.
At the same function, Mr Hensman said the council had been putting its “head in the sand” over the wilding issue.
Mr Hensman, of Queenstown, is co-chairman of the Wakatipu Wilding Conifer Control Group.
In later comment last year, ORC chairman Stephen Woodhead said the council was aware of the spread of wilding trees within the region over many years.
He applauded the work of many community groups, including the Wakatipu control group, in managing these trees.
He said it was now timely to consult the public over the approach the ORC should take over wilding conifers, and he rejected reported assertion by Ms Barry that the ORC was “dragging the chain”.
The key questions ORC would pose during the consultation would include whether the council should be involved in a regulatory role with wilding control, or contributing financially to this control, or a combination of both.
And he said the ORC looked forward to the Government providing funding “in support of its own obligations” to deal with legacy plants on Crown land, on the conservation estate, and on other Crown land.
Mr Woodhead later warned that some recent reports had identified that more than 300,000ha of Otago had some wilding infestation.
This figure was likely to triple to 900,000ha in the next 20 years if nothing further was done, he said.
Late last year, the council added to its internet site extensive wilding conifer information and a map showing their spread in Otago.
And the council has also launched an online survey seeking information about wilding conifers.
The survey asks participants how concerned they are about the spread of wilding conifers in Otago, and how important they think it is that the work of community groups controlling wilding spread is supported by the council.
Another question raises awareness about the damage caused by wilding conifers, including reduced water availability in rivers, loss of scenic landscapes, reduced productivity in pastoral farming land, and “damage to environmentally sensitive areas”.
ORC officials say the online survey is available at www.orc.govt.nzand is likely to continue until about mid this month.
Mr Hensman welcomed moves by the council to raise public awareness on the issue, to seek feedback from the public and from concerned groups, including district councils.
“We applaud anything that raises awareness,” he said in an interview.
And wilding conifers were a challenge for the whole country and were not only a Queenstown issue.
“And it’s not only an ORC issue – it’s actually a national issue,” he added.
He also welcomed a change of heart by the council, which was indicating it was more open, at least in principle, to provide funding to community groups, such as the control group, which are trying to prevent the damaging spread of wilding conifers.
But the proof of the council’s new approach would be “do they put funding towards it?”.
Substantial funding was needed if the wilding conifer problem was to be dealt with effectively.
He praised the Queenstown Lakes District Council, which had shown “great leadership” on the issue, and was also “putting money towards it”.
He acknowledged that the Government also had a key role in providing more funding to fight wilding conifer spread.
Having good ratepayer and taxpayer support to counter wilding conifer spread was ultimately crucial if the battle was to be won, and a “long-term solution” to the threat was to be found, he said.
● A report outlining a “Wakatipu Wilding Conifer Strategy 2013-2017” was prepared for the wilding control group and the Queenstown Lakes District Council early in 2013.
The report noted the Wakatipu’s “unique landscape” was “the major generator of tourism”.
Golden tussock slopes, craggy bluffs, alpine shrubs and “the silhouette of mountains” were unique features but wilding conifers could “totally change the scenery” in a short time, the report warned.