On November 10 last year, a quiet town in California called Paradise was wiped off the face of the Earth by wildfire. Miraculously, in the community of 27,000 homes, only 86 people lost their lives in the most expensive disaster in the history of the world.

Most world news reports blamed climate change (President Trump blamed the Forest Service) in the forest-enclosed town.

I believe the cause could be narrowed down to a specific tree, Pinus radiata that is endemic to that area.

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David Attenborough, in his Book The Living Planet refers to these trees as conifers that are endemic to that area of North America. He describes how "Conifers positively benefit from the fires" and they "not only tolerate these conditions, they create them".

He also describes how these pine trees can eliminate other species by controlling moisture around their roots. This is the same species sold as forestry trees in NZ and commonly planted as beneficial to our environment.

I will concede that this species is ideal for forest products like timber, pulp and paper, if properly managed as an exotic forest. But I believe it is a disaster when it is left to go wild, as it can outgrow and destroy our native species.

These pines have none of the benefits of our native pines like kahikatea, rimu, matai and miro. Our native pines have fruit that feed our birds and they do not enhance fire. The growth rate for native seedlings is so slow compared to radiata, which can be 1m high in three months.

With climate-change fire conditions that worsen each year, fire hazard must become a critical factor in whether we tolerate these fire-enhancing species. I have more than 30 years' experience managing land in the Whanganui area with regard to scrubcutting, tree planting/felling and farming.

On my bush farm at Waverley I regularly burnt slash right up to the native bush line and never had any fire hazards with native trees and scrub. I would not dare to try this on my block at Aramoho because of the dangerous fire hazard from radiata, which makes all areas hazardous.

Rob Butcher
Rob Butcher

Over the past 18 years I have tried to establish an environment with exciting native species but radiata has been my biggest obstacle to achieving that.

As a crude survey, I could use my experience here on my Roberts Ave property, to show how fast these pines are taking over.


My surrounding view when I came here 18 years ago included uninterrupted views over Whanganui to the South Island on a clear day.

Now this 90-degree vista is blanked off by a wall of radiata wilding pines up to the skyline. The warm, dry habitat formed under these trees seems to attract feral goats as a sort of roost and breeding area. These pests ensure that native plants are non-existent within their range.

I think it is time the fire service and DoC looked at ways to remove these pine trees both for fire hazard and threat to our environment.

Rob Butcher is a conservationist, retired engineer and beekeeper.