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Surely everyone accepts that wilding pines are a pest that need exterminated at almost any cost? Try telling that to ex-Queenstowner Jim Childerstone. He discusses his newly-released book, with its alternative facts on the issue, with Philip Chandler

Semi-retired forester is taking a stand against the wholesale destruction of wilding pine ‘pests’.

Former Queenstowner Jim Childerstone has self-published a booklet, The Wilding Conifer Invasion – Potential Resource or Pest Plant, to debate “the pros and cons of a contentious issue”.

The 82-year-old forestry writer believes it’s wrong that taxpayers and ratepayers are stumping up millions of dollars to get rid of wilding pines when they could be exploited as a “potential resource”.

“There are practical ways of attacking the problem rather than the gung-ho attitude of fundamentalist conservation groups,” he tells Mountain Scene

“The fundamentalists are sort of out to knock down just about every exotic tree that tends to spread.

“We’re saying that, no, you can in fact manage these trees, and you don’t go knocking them down just for the hell of it.”

Childerstone’s solution is to harvest wilding trees for high-grade building timber, if possible.

Otherwise, he suggests extracting biofuels from wood waste, turning forest residue into vehicle fuels or, as Queenstowners Michael Sly and Mathurin Molgat have found, tapping the trees for essential oil products.

By treating wildings as a resource, he says funds can be raised to limit what he calls “outlier invasion, particularly where rare native flora and fauna still exist”.

Some public funding might still be required, he says, but not the millions being talked about.

Childerstone says there’s an irony that various public bodies “are intent on eliminating varieties of invasive conifers while foresters and government agencies are belatedly encouraging new plantings of exotic conifers to boost the emissions trading scheme”.

He asks: “Now, with the burgeoning tourist industry, what must be going through the minds of the more concerned environmental eco-tourists as they drive through the Mackenzie Basin, through the Kawarau Gorge at the Roaring Meg hydro site, and on the way to Milford Sound past [Mid Dome] near Mossburn, to be greeted by the sight of dead trees?”

Not to mention, he adds, the sight of sprayed Douglas firs on the south ridge of Queenstown’s Ben Lomond.

He points out the wilding pines above the Roaring Meg power station. sprayed in 2012, were planted in the early 1970s by the former Ministry of Works and Development to prevent slips above a proposed dam.

Instead of those dead trees, Childerstone speculates that visitors enjoy the sight of wildings around Queenstown.

“Some people, possibly from North America, may enthuse over the endless vistas of Jackpine, fir and sequoia, and feel at home in the Wakatipu.

“It could also be the backdrop of exotic conifers, deciduous trees, sycamore, larch and silver beech, and colourful shrubs around Arrowtown, particularly during the annual Autumn Festival.”

Ironically, Arrowtown Choppers’ Anton Schmitz, whose group held a ‘Big Chop’ near the township on Monday, afterwards warned that the local community’s reaching a tipping point where the wilding pine problem will soon become unmanageable.

“If the wilding pine problem is not addressed now,” he said in a press release, “the high country around Arrowtown and Queenstown will be irreversibly changed.”

Whether or not you agree with Childerstone, you can’t deny his hands-on knowledge of the topic.

When he and his wife Margot bought a 5.5-hectare Closeburn property, near Queenstown, in 1975, it was about 70 per cent covered in wilding trees, he writes.

He used the Corsican pines to build his first home, a log cabin, then built a bigger residence out of Douglas firs milled above One Mile Creek.

After briefly operating a timber yard, he developed the Closeburn Alpine Park campground.

He was hit by the 1987 sharemarket crash, however, and had to sell up. He left town and now lives in North Otago – but still returns regularly.

During the 10 years till 2014, he writes that he recorded some of the Douglas fir infestation in the Lakes district, particularly around Queenstown.

He notes that Queenstown’s council logged wilding trees in the Bob’s Peak reserve in the 1990s, but says proceeds apparently went into its consolidated fund.

About 10 years ago, he assessed the potential for processing about two hectares of wilding trees below Queenstown’s Alpine Retreat subdivision into biofuels as a commercial operation.

He estimated it would be a cheaper fuel than LPG, electric power or diesel, but not coal.

He didn’t push on, however, because of a lack of funding.

scoop@scene.co.nz

Childerstone’s book will soon be stocked at Queenstown’s Bound Bookstore and at the Lakes District Museum in Arrowtown