Environment – Pines a pain

Pine trees are weeds when they are in the wrong place. According to an estimate made last year by the National Wildling Conifer Control Programme, weed pines could cover 20 percent of New Zealand’s landmass by 2030. Just a few million dollars a year is being spent on controlling them. The Hibiscus Coast certainly has its share of these pests. They pop up on roadsides, in reserves on wasteland and in grasslands. In forested areas the Pinus species seem to prefer drier slopes that have an open canopy letting in light. Seedlings are delightfully easy to pull out. I recommend you have a go next time you see some on open ground accessible to you. The alternative could be growth of a monster that could deter native species from regenerating for hundreds of years. As well as dominating the canopy, pines acidify the leaf litter with their needles. Their biggest impact is in sucking moisture out of the ground.

It has been satisfying these last few years to be involved in a team removing pines from the regenerating kauri-podocarp forests that the Coast has in abundance in its back country. When we were starting out, a colleague said he had a friend with a chainsaw as tall as we were that would cut through even the biggest of the pines we wanted to target.

Fortunately, we thought better of it. Council prohibits the use of chainsaws by volunteers in its reserves. Also, we had found that even cutting down small trees by hand caused a lot of damage to the surrounding vegetation as they fell. More friendly advice saw us adopt drilling and poisoning as our preferred method. This does raise some risk when the trunks eventually fall, but by then the idea goes, the trunk is more sawdust than wood.

Fortunately, we got stuck in before the Unitary Plan came into effect. It requires that a resource consent be obtained before weed trees on Council reserves over four metres high can be cut down or poisoned. We have one application in process, though the race is on between the bureaucratic turning of wheels and the aging of our bodies.

With so much invested in removing the darn things, it was disappointing to have the government promise a billion new trees. Three quarters are likely to be pines or, even worse for wind-blown spread, Douglas fir, according to a report by Farah Hancock of Newsroom. There are now National Environmental Standards for Plantation Forestry that require an assessment of wildling risk for new stands, but the cat is out of the bag.
Many more resources need to go into controlling the ecological damage conifers cause, relative to the headline-grabbing promises of subsidies for vast new plantations. Keep pulling out those seedlings.