By James Beech

 

The scale and threat of the wilding pine infestation in the Wakatipu Basin should be recognised by the Otago Regional Council and the body should contribute $600,000 over the next decade to help fight the war, the Wilding Conifer Group says.

The group, which is a Charities Commission-registered public-private partnership of which the regional council is not a member, made the calls in its submission to the council's long-term plan.

Group chairman Peter Willsman, of Queenstown, said in the submission the draft plan for the next 10 years "completely fails to recognise the significance of the wilding problem on the region's land and water resources."

The regional council's draft plan "sets out a course of inactivity on arguably the biggest issue facing the region's high country.

Wilding spread is exponential, meaning what thousands of dollars can achieve today, millions will be needed if the problem is dealt with, or not dealt with, under the draft long-term plan."

The group wanted the draft plan to be amended to include Pinus contorta as a "measure" for the "adequate control of pest animals and pest plants" in the biodiversity section.

Members of the 3-year-old group included representatives from district councils, the Department of Conservation, Land Information New Zealand and private landowners and leaseholders.

Mr Willsman said the group requested and welcomed the involvement of the regional council and asked it to contribute $60,000 a year towards wilding containment and eradication for the 10 years of the plan.

The Queenstown Lakes District Council contributed more than $120,000 a year as well as staff time. The group understood Environment Southland once budgeted $300,000 a year towards pine control but now set aside $50,000 a year.

Controlling wilding pines on the 73,000ha of infested Wakatipu land was estimated to cost $5.7 million, the group said.

Wilding Conifer Group chief executive Briana Pringle, also Queenstown Lakes district forester, told the Otago Daily Times volunteers had been busy clearing wilding pines around the basin, including on the Remarkables.

"We just did over 250ha on Cecil Peak with 12 crew members and volunteers over two days in mid-April," Mrs Pringle said.

"We did the front faces of Cecil Peak facing Closeburn and Queenstown and it's looking pretty clear over there at the moment."

When asked for comment on the group's criticisms, ORC corporate services director Wayne Scott said the submission had not yet been considered by councillors.

"We are in a public process and we really want to let that process take its course," Mr Scott said.

"The regional council has and continues to make available staff expertise on to that group. It's not unusual for the council not to be formal members of such groups, but support [them] by other means."

Mrs Pringle encouraged members and supporters to lodge submissions with the ORC in support by today's deadline.