There are benefits to Mackenzie fire

We've all seen the fire raging across the Mackenzie Country on the television the last few nights. Engulfing pine trees and unfortunately someone's house. They reckon it will take another five days to put out so it must be quite a fire.

The plus to come out of this is that the fire is decimating New Zealand's number-one pest- wilding pines.

These overwhelm our native landscapes, kill native plants, and force native animals out of their habitats. Wildings are also a threat to farmland. Underneath them, the grass won't grow, leaving anything for stock to feed on. They suck up a considerable amount of water.

They are self-seeded and not intentionally planted. Once they get established, they spread like wildfire. You only need to take the drive from Queenstown to Glenorchy to see the effect of runaway wilding pines and how they have transformed the landscape.

Without governmental intervention, wilding pines will spread to 7.5 million hectares of our most vulnerable land within 30 years. According to DOC, 5 per cent more of the high country is being covered by wildings every year.

Due to early neglect, the spread of wildings has increased exponentially since about 1990. The areas of established thickly wooded wilding forest are still relatively small - a few hundred thousand hectares. But another 1.5 million hectares are now liberally sprinkled with seedlings and saplings.

It's that bad, that dramatic.

But heartening news, Over the past five years, the first and second phases of the Wilding Conifer Management Strategy 2015-2030 have eradicated over two million hectares of wildings and searched the surrounding land for remote outliers. Within the 1.5 million hectares covered during 2018 and 2019 (the timeframe in which I, as a farming reporter for Fairfax was reporting on the story) more than half a million hectares had been controlled mainly in the Craigieburn Basin and the Mackenzie Country. 

 The Waimakariri Basin of which the Craigieburn area is part of was one of the success stories of the first phase. Despite a previous spend of $300,000 a year, the government and local groups had struggled to contain wilding spread from old erosion control plantings from the 1950s to the 1980s. The spread threatened productive farmland, and recreational areas and was a blot on the landscape. Around $2 million of wilding control program funds allowed a concentrated effort to get on top of the problem, and now farmers have regained use of their pastoral land, and Arthurs Pass National Park and Korowai/Torlesse Tussocklands have been protected from invasion.

Further south a massive 137,000 hectares of the Godley area of the Mackenzie Basin has been cleared.

So hopefully this fire that is burning out of control in the Mackenzie will have some benefit. A few less wilding pines that need eradicating.

Read edition 990 of the Wānaka Sun here.


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