The new Upper Clutha Wilding Tree Group is aiming to control wilding trees in the wider Upper Clutha area, with the Otago Regional Council helping it get off the ground recently.
In a statement, Otago Regional Council said wilding conifers were a significant problem in Otago, smothering native vegetation, reducing stream flows, increasing the risk of wildfires and changing the landscape from tussock and native shrubs to an evergreen tree-dominated environment.
Council Project Delivery Specialist – National Programmes, Gavin Udy welcomed the Upper Clutha Wilding Tree Group to the collective effort.
“It’s great to see another group join the fight against wildings,” said Mr Udy.
If left unchecked, wilding conifers will out-compete native plants, reduce native animal habitat, reduce water yield, limit productive land use, increase wildfire risk and permanently alter the Upper Clutha landscape, Council said.
It said wildings also increase the intensity of wild fires. In 2018 there was an out-of-control fire on Mt Maude above Lake Hawea, with local residents forced to quickly evacuate their homes.
Mt Maude resident, Di Kenton – who has joined the Upper Clutha Wilding Tree Group – says she couldn’t believe how quickly the fire spread.
“It was like watching a dynamite trail being lit,” said Ms Kenton.
After Ms Kenton and her animals were evacuated along with other residents on Mt Maude, the fire was managed with helicopter monsoon buckets collecting water from Lake Hawea, and local volunteer fire crews on the ground.
She says had the fire started a few hours later in the evening, the choppers wouldn’t have been able to fly and, given the prevailing wind, the fire could have been a lot worse.
Ms Kenton has removed the final five hectares of wildings from her property over concerns around further wildfires and the progressive southern spread of wildings through to Maungawera and down the banks of the Hawea River.
Wanaka resident, Arne Cleland, says action on wildings is urgently required in the region.
“We have an opportunity to get on top of this problem, within the Upper Clutha if we take action now. If we allow the existing trees to start producing seed, the problem will compound dramatically. Any delay will add significantly to the cost and make control even more challenging,” said Mr Cleland.
“Wilding trees will not only change how our place looks, they will alter the ecological processes in the landscape. These trees have the ability to eventually cover any hill you can see from Wanaka and Hawea if left unchecked.”
The group’s facilitator, Rob Phillips says they are currently mapping wilding infestations and developing a plan, setting out the areas to control, priorities and timeframes.
“Cost-effective surveillance and control of wilding conifers is achievable if we act now,” says Mr Phillips.
“Without intervention, wilding pines will continue to spread. If action is delayed, the impacts of wilding conifers and control costs will increase exponentially.
The group is working with central and local government, and with other community groups in advocating for ongoing funding to deal with the problem both in the Upper Clutha and elsewhere in Otago.
There are three community groups in the region focussed on controlling wilding conifers – the Central Otago Wilding Conifer Control Group, Whakatipu Wilding Conifer Control Group and the recently established Upper Clutha Wilding Tree Group. The National Wilding Conifer Control Programme, led by Biosecurity New Zealand, and managed locally by ORC, has funded control work across Otago since 2016.
Under Otago’s Regional Pest Management Plan, wilding conifers (introduced conifer trees which have self-seeded and are growing where they are not wanted) are identified as pests requiring progressive containment.