Farmers call for exemption from war on wilding conifers

The plans would saddle landowners with conifer control, and all associated costs, once numbers dipped below a minimum level.

But Marlborough farmer and councillor Geoff Evans said Upper Waihopai and Wairau Valley landowners should not be expected to fork out for conifer removal.

Conifers had long been an issue in the regions since they were introduced by authorities to control silt run-offs from the high country.

Evans attempted to make a case for landowners in the Upper Waihopai and Wairau to be exempt from the scheme at a Marlborough Regional Pest Management Plan meeting two weeks ago.

The regions had been a hot-spot for wilding trees since the 1950s when they were used as trial areas for the Marlborough Catchment Board.

Multiple introduced species were planted to see which would best control water runoff and erosion, but strong winds soon spread conifers from the trial zones around the region.

“It would be unjust for responsible landowners who were forced to participate in what was essentially an erosion control experiment to, years later, be required by law to pay for ongoing eradication as proposed,” Evans said.

“Landowners simply cannot afford it.”

The pest management plan aimed to manage harmful organisms in the Marlborough region, including multiple conifer species.

New proposals were made to the plan, which came into effect in 2012, following a recent review.

One proposal stated that when the need for conifer maintenance diminishes in an area, the obligation for keeping the area free of conifers would fall back on the landowner.

Jono Underwood said the turnover in responsibilities occurred when a “low maintenance level” was reached.

“A low maintenance level is figured out case by case, but often it’s when the maintained level of trees is stable or at a low number.”

Ministry for Primary Industries national wilding conifer control programme manager Sherman Smith said working with government was in a landowner’s best interest.

“Landholders – including government, private farmers and others – all clearly benefit from wilding conifer control, and all have a part to play in addressing this legacy issue,” Smith said.

But Evans said Upper Waihopai Valley and Wairau landowners were “a special case” and “must be recognised as such”.

“Conifer growth in these regions is far denser than others because of the planting, over-sowing and encouragement by local authorities and central government,” Evans said.

“Responsibility must remain that of those who established the conifers, including the Marlborough District Council, the Forest Service’s heir and the Department of Conservation.”

To control the species from spreading the council had set up multiple conifer containment control zones on several Waihopai Valley and Wairau properties in the past.

Evans, who had a 650-hectare containment control zone adopted on his property, Stronvar Station, said the council had not done any conifer management on his property for several years.

The council removed a conifer growth on Stronvar Station near Byrons Monument in 2010.

But four years later, another 1000 conifers had to be removed again.

When conifers continued to grow, Evans had them boom sprayed by helicopter, but this expensive exploit failed to work.

“The age and size of this infestation is such that meaningful control is virtually impossible,” Evans said.

“Thirty years ago there were affordable control options. Now, there are none.”

Evans said the “best option for the wider environment” was for the council to extend containment control zones in the Waihopai and Wairau valleys and enforce their boundaries.

He suggested these recommendations be added to the proposal.

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