Queenstown wilding pine success story comes with warning

by Kim Bowden - Apr 10, 2024

After 16 years of effort to remove wilding pine from a swathe of land close to Queenstown's Shotover River those at the coal face of control efforts have reached a milestone to celebrate. 

But they remain vigilant to the ongoing threat of the fast-spreading pest species, and the need for future funding to combat it.

In the Shotover management area, close to 67,000 hectares of land that includes Mount Aurum, Skippers and Macetown, work will now shift to a 'maintenance only' phase.

The Whakatipu Wilding Control Group says the last seven 100-year-old Douglas fir have been removed as well as some other coning pest trees at a tricky location around the Pipeline Bridge.

They say conifer species were introduced around the Skippers cemetery around 1880, and they have spread since then, eventually encroaching on historic sites, impacting on access and changing the nature of the iconic landscapes.

Remnant native beech forest are now recovering in the valleys that wildings have been removed.

Otago Regional Council chair Gretchen Robertson says seeing the Shotover area move to the maintenance only stage is further proof that landscape scale control is achievable.

However she says it is a hard-won milestone that comes with a warning not to take a pause on this fast-spreading pest.

“Adequate funding is still needed to control seedling regrowth and to control wildings on neighbouring management areas, so that wind-blown seed doesn’t re-infest the Shotover management area."

The Whakatipu Wilding Control Group credits the pest control win as an example of what can be achieved with collaboration between local government, government agencies, landowners, community organisations and volunteers and contractors, and group chairman Grant Hensman is also celebrating with a caveat.

“This success is due to the extensive, combined efforts of many over the years. No one organisation or person can claim the gold medal for this, but rather we need to mint a truck load of bronzes.

“The start of the maintenance only phase in this area is due to the removal of all known seeding trees and comes after 16 years of consistent effort. Repeat visits each year, diminishing in intensity, are programmed to mop up residual infestation. This is not without threats to success, chief amongst them budget cuts by government.

“Future generations should be grateful to the many people involved, but the irony is that when we do our job well, they won’t know what they almost lost and will rightly take as normal un-infested, native flora and fauna, never realising the cost and effort that went into preserving it for them."

The control programme has overcome significant challenges, including access along the 17.4-kilometre historic Skippers Road, hand carved by miners over 140 years ago with sheer cliff faces and steep drops.

Main images (Supplied/Whakatipu Wilding Control Group)

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