A long-running community-driven project to a restore a rare and culturally significant 55ha Far North dune lake is the latest to benefit from central government funding to get rid of wilding pines around Northland.
Lake Ngatu, inland from Waipapakauri Ramp, is a Department of Conservation recreation reserve, popular with water sport enthusiasts, where NgaiTakoto, Northland Regional Council, Far North District Council, DoC and landowners are working to tackle huge wilding pines. Some are a century old and two metres thick, and are threatening to dominate the lake and its surrounds.
Regional councillor Colin Kitchen said the Lake Ngatu wilding pine work was one of a growing number of projects given money from a $1 million Ministry for Primary Industries' fund that was providing employment for forestry workers affected by Covid-19 job losses.
One of the Sweetwater dune lakes, it was a habitat to a number of threatened animals and plants, including the dune lake dwarf inanga and the New Zealand dabchick.
Kaio Hooper, NgaiTakoto's environmental asset manager, said it was a historic site and an ecological taonga for the iwi, not least as home to kuta, a native reed that filters out pollutants in the water.
The species, which grows only in the Far North, is used to make korowai.
"Kuta is very important for our iwi, and it's in hot demand all over our country for weavers," Hooper said.
"Keeping the lake healthy isn't just about the lake and its ecosystem, it's also about the tikanga and the cultural health of the people using it."
Hooper said NgaiTakoto had been working with The Bushlands Trust, DoC and other members of the community to protect and beautify the lake for some decades.
He remembered planting native trees there "when I was at Awanui School as a young fella", to help improve water quality and the habitat.
He said felling the pines was a crucial step in protecting the lake for future generations.
"We needed to get professional contractors in and remove them safely," he said.
"These pine trees are in the wrong place, overhanging DoC tracks and recreational areas where people are having picnics. There's a big cost just to trim off broken limbs and maintain them."
Removing the trees also provided a good opportunity to further highlight the positive changes happening at Lake Ngatu.
"We can plant natives, have community events and educate schoolkids about the significance of the lake and the area's history. We can reiterate why this place is special for us, and bring the community together," he said.
Kaitaia-based contractor Dan O'Rourke and his crew of five local forestry workers have been working at Lake Ngatu since early July, fresh from similar work clearing hundreds of problematic trees, including wilding pines, along the Awanui River.
He said some of the Lake Ngatu trees were growing near power lines, roads, houses and public walking tracks, which made felling them down a tricky, technical job.
"The trees haven't grown in uniform, straight lines like a typical forest plantation; we're needing to use lots of different cutting techniques to get them down safely. Sometimes we need two machines to assist us in bringing [them] down," he said.
O'Rourke said the move to tackle wilding pines provided job security for forestry workers at a time of economic uncertainty.
"Forestry's been pretty up and down in terms of the market, so this line of work has been very good for the crew," he said.