by Jeanette Fitzsimons
After designing an emissions trading scheme for the last government that let farmers off the hook for five years, MAF shows no such generosity to other land managers.
The Department of Conservation battles every year to push back the spreading tide of wilding pines, spread as seedlings from poorly-located pine plantations. A lot of them are pinus contorta, written off years ago as not even useful for timber. They encroach on regenerating native forests and other ecosystems such as tussock lands and left alone can completely dominate. The problem is widespread east of the Southern Alps, from Southland to Marlborough, as well as in the Kaweka Forest Park (near Napier) and the Central Plateau. As well as threatening native biodiversity and iconic landscapes like those around Aoraki/Mt Cook, it has economic costs too. It reduces productive values of grazing land and, unchecked, will reduce the volume of water entering our hydro lakes.
However, controlling wilding pines on the 210,000ha of conservation land that is at risk is turning out to be an expensive job for DOC. On top of the cost of staff and transport and chainsaws and herbicide, they are now being charged a deforestation carbon penalty by MAF. Control of these weeds for the public benefit is being hit by the same rules as private companies who convert forestry to dairy.
For the first six months of this year, this cost DOC $811,000 – a large amount for a department that has already had its budget for this year cut by $13.5 million. That money could have saved some endangered species, increased the area of land under pest control, or – got rid of more wilding pines. The irony is that DOC’s pest control efforts for browsing mammals like goats and possums increases (or maintains) carbon stored in our native forests, but they get no carbon credit for that.
Because of this perverse disincentive to deal with wilding pines, DOC has apparently suspended all wilding pine control; meanwhile the pines continue to spread and grow and the problem worsens.
If National wants to get just one thing right in its apology for an emissions trading system it intends to legislate for this week, they could stop this ridiculous attack on our conservation lands.