Still standing: The plug's been pulled, for now, on the eradication of this swathe of wilding trees

AFTER objections, a stop’s been put to a government-funded programme to eliminate wilding pines from a 35-hectare swathe bordering Queenstown’s Arthurs Point.

Wakatipu Wilding Conifer Control Group (WCG), supported by the Department of Conservation, wants to take out invasive pines from 25ha of DoC land above the Shotover River, along to Big Beach, and two 5ha parcels of private land.

It has government funding from a post-Covid fund that needs to be used by June 30.

Specifically, it planned the operation to happen over two to three weeks over last month and this.

WCG boss Grant Hensman, who held a drop-in session at Arthurs Point, says “there are some concerns from the residents, and we are not proposing to do anything this season”.

“We do things with the public’s support, and in this case there were some concerns raised, we listened to those concerns, and we are not going forward at this point.”

Since making that decision, Hensman says, “I’ve had some calls from people who’ve said, get on with it’.

“Some people weren’t of that view, and they pointed out there’s a process to follow, and we’re following that process.”

In particular, he says they may wait to see what happens on the most “visible” section of trees — a 5ha knob below Atley Road owned by Gertrude’s Saddlery — which is the subject of a resource consent wrangle over a proposed 89-lot housing subdivision.

Hensman says WCG was set up by Queenstown’s council to “remove and control this [wilding pine] scourge”, but he admits the issue gets more contentious the closer you get to populations.

“This is open consultation, this is not a matter of saying ‘this is what we’re doing’, without listening to what the people are saying, but we will never please all the people all of the time.”

However, Hensman adds: ‘‘If you leave the [wilding] trees, ultimately everything changes, you lose the biodiversity, you lose everything that is endemic, because these trees dominate, and my question is, where do you draw the line at Arthurs Point?

“You may like them on the knob, so are we saying we’re not going to take them out downstream, we’re going to let all of the big beech reserve be dominated by them?”

A leading opponent of WCG’s plan was Tom Dery, chair of the Arthurs Point Outstanding Natural Landscape Society (APOLNS), which was formed to oppose Gertrude’s Saddlery’s subdivision.

He says: “We’re delighted with the decision to postpone any deforestation of wilding trees in this area until proper process is considered.

“We completely understand the need to protect the environment, and therefore the decision to remove wildings over time is one we understand.”

In a letter to DoC director-general Lou Sanson, written on behalf of APOLNS, the group’s concerned WCG rushed to push through its plan without meaningful consultation with the community.

It points out the wildings have some benefits like screening developments and slope stabilisation, as some of the land’s landslide-prone.

It also believes resource consents are required, and notes parts of the affected area are an ‘outstanding natural landscape’ and a wahi tupuna area, and it adjoins, and is partly located within, an ‘outstanding natural feature’, the Shotover River.

Dery tells Mountain Scene: ‘‘We don’t want to be painted as anti all of this, all we’re saying is, ‘make sure due process happens’.”

He also says he’s not seen any replanting plan.

Hensman says it’s not in WCG’s mandate — “we simply don’t have the resources or funds available”.

“We are 100% supportive of revegetation, it comes back to the particular landowner.”