Comment: Doing the control work on wilding pines now is an investment in the future, writes Federated Farmers biosecurity spokeswoman, Karen Williams.
As Finance Minister Grant Robertson ponders what to put in his Budget in May, understandably his mind – and those of his fellow Cabinet ministers - will be on the election later in the year.
Read more from Federated Farmers here.
It's not an issue that necessarily captures voters' attention, but let's hope they remember to allocate some extra millions to a scourge on the land that has severe environmental and economic impacts – wilding pines.
Wilding pines are trees that have self-seeded from wind-blown cones from plantation forests and shelter belts.
The NZ Wilding Conifer Group, on which Federated Farmers is represented, estimates that wilding pines affect at least 1.8 million hectares – almost 6 per cent of NZ's land area.
They spread fast; left unmanaged it has been estimated that within 30 years they would cover more than a quarter of our landscape.
Wilding pines take the sunshine, water and nutrients other plants need to grow and then quickly become the dominant species.
Land that is adversely affected by wilding pines includes farmland, recreational land, sites of cultural and historical importance, as well as New Zealand's unique natural environment.
Wilding pines can irreversibly change some of our threatened and rare ecosystems, meaning that once an area is invaded by wilding pines, it can be difficult to return it to its original state.
If you're not moved by the environmental arguments, consider the fiscal impacts.
Wilding pines can decrease the amount of water that flows into rivers by 30 per cent to 40 per cent.
They use so much water they are a significant threat to irrigation and hydro-electricity generation.
A recent cost-benefit analysis found that if left unmanaged, wilding pines will cost us $739 million by 2050 just in losses in productive land, and another nearly $3 billion from losses in irrigation and hydroelectricity potential.
Fortunately, we are fighting back against this "wrong tree in the wrong place".
A programme led by Biosecurity New Zealand, working with the Department of Conservation and Land Information New Zealand, spent $16 million between 2016 and 2019 to control wilding pines on 1.5m hectares of some of our most vulnerable iconic landscapes.
The NZ Wilding Conifer Group has warned that if this work is not followed up to remove remaining wildings before they mature to seed production age, the money spent to date may be wasted and the opportunity for wilding extermination missed.
Kudos to the Government. It awarded an extra $10.5 million for each of 2019 and 2020 for the national wilding control programme.
As Federated Farmers said at the time of the Budget 2019 announcement – that's very welcome but it's not enough.
To win the wildings battle, the war chest needs to be more like $25 million a year and not limited to two years.
By some estimates, it's a $250 million problem growing at 20 per cent per year.
DOC research shows that expenditure on wilding pine control is very cost effective. This is because wilding pines do not produce cones until they are very visible, allowing detection and removal before further spread is initiated.
Also, wilding pine seed does not last more than a few years in the soil, so there is no long-lasting seed bank which can germinate and cause reinvasion many years after control is undertaken.
Work is underway by forestry companies on planting buffer trees with a low seed spread risk.
There is also debate on the potential use of gene-editing to ensure the plantation trees we plant for wood production are sterile and don't spread.
Doing the control work on wilding pines now is an investment in the future.
The NZ Wilding Conifer Group has calculated that increasing funding for wilding conifer control to $118 million over four years will result in a net benefit of $6.1 billion. The ratio of benefit to cost for this level of investment is 38:1.
They're surely some numbers that should make the eyes of a Finance Minister light up.