Gearing up for wilding control push

Environment Canterbury has announced the way new funding for wilding conifer control will be allocated and administered in the region.

Since the government announced in June 2016 that $16 million would be allocated to a national four-year programme, a Wilding Governance Group has been formed to provide oversight of an expanded control programme for this significant pest plant.

The group has allocated just over $5 million nationally to the programme for 2016-17, of which nearly $3 million goes to Canterbury.

Environment Canterbury Chief Executive Bill Bayfield said this allocation level illustrates the extent of the problem in the region. “There is much to be done to protect farmland, water yield and iconic landscapes from this invasive pest,” he said. “With another dry summer in prospect, reduced water yield caused by wildings becomes an issue, as does increased risk of fire.”

Prioritising work

Graham Sullivan is Environment Canterbury's regional leader of biosecurity and sits on an operational advisors’ group to the Governance Group. He said prioritisation of infestations would guide control work in the first four years.

“Like other councils in affected regions, Environment Canterbury acts as coordinator on behalf of the government,” Sullivan said. “Over the next year we will implement six control programmes, with a total combined funding of just under $4 million covering nearly 900,000 hectares, as well as participating in a large Waitaki programme with Otago.”

The areas to be covered are all inland and extend from Lewis Pass, the most northern management area. In order of total funding allocated (size of management area in brackets) the six priority areas are:

  • Craigieburn, North Canterbury, $2 million (53,750)
  • Lewis, also North Canterbury around Hanmer, $581,000 (295,900)
  • Hakatere, Mid Canterbury, $383,000 (180,260)
  • Godley, Mackenzie Basin, $379,000 (137,260)
  • Porters, North Canterbury, $366,000 (189,740)
  • Four Peaks, South Canterbury, $148,000 (40,140)

Sullivan said this coordinated national approach was an encouraging start towards containing the spread of Canterbury’s worst pest plant.

Historical spending

“Last year $1.2 million was spent on wilding control in Canterbury and just under $12 million nationally,” he said. “However, this was insufficient to deal with the scale of the issue. Wildings are spreading at about 90,000 hectares a year, equivalent to nine average-sized high country farms.

Current initiatives 

“The current initiative is the first phase of a programme that will hopefully lead to a sustainable long-term management plan. First we are looking for increased prevention and control; reducing the area currently invaded; co-ordinated, more cost effective control and prevention; information gathering, and early control action and support.

“Early action to prevent seeding is crucial if we are to get on top of the problem. Landowners, community groups and government agencies all have an important part to play if we are to be successful - both now and in future”.

Why wilding conifers are a pest

Wilding conifers:

  • left uncontrolled, are predicted to spread across 20% of New Zealand (the equivalent of Canterbury and Marlborough combined) within 20 years, costing the economy more than $1.2 billion;
  • cover nearly 6% (1.8 million hectares) of the country’s total land area;
  • cause the loss of native ecosystems and species extinctions and threaten large, open mountain landscapes that define the South Island high country;
  • impact historic and tourism landscapes, reduce water yields from catchments and increase wild-fire severity; and
  • can increase the cost and complexity of developing pasture and commercial forestry.