Cutting wilding funding ‘dumb’

Whakatipu Wilding Conifer Control (WCG) Group chair Grant Hensman’s at a loss to understand why the government has reduced wilding control budgets to below what’s needed for maintenance.

In 2018, the Ministry of Primary Industries engaged Sapere to assess the cost-benefit of the government’s second phase of its national wilding conifer control programme.

Its subsequent report found there would be a ‘‘catastrophic impact’’ on vulnerable land if nothing’s done about the invasive pest.

Sapere principal Sally Wyatt found without national intervention, wilding pines would spread to 7.5million hectares of vulnerable land, and result in a net loss of $4.6 billion to the country.

Conversely, intervention options could result in a net benefit of more than $6b.

In the 2020 Budget, $100m was committed over four years to the National Wilding Conifer Control Programme — established in 2016 — which aims to contain or eradicate all infestations by 2030.

It’s now threatened with a massive cut, down to just $10m a year.

Hensman: ‘‘It’s dumb.’’

He says it’s nowhere near enough to secure and hold the line on what’s been invested to date.

He also notes the government commissioned an updated report, which he says was completed last October, but it hasn’t been released.

‘‘Why haven’t they released it?

‘‘Because they’ll be embarrassed by the cost-benefit ratio.’’

The 2018 Sapere report’s cost-benefit ratio was 38-1, he says.

‘‘Have you ever heard of a cost-benefit ratio that high?

‘‘Because I haven’t.

‘‘They spent up to $1b on motorway projects for a cost-benefit of between one and two.

‘‘There would be only two possible reasons for not funding at least the maintenance.

‘‘One is you’re abandoning it and letting the country be overrun with pines.

‘‘Or, frankly, it’s not a business decision and it’s dumb.’’

Speaking to Queenstown’s council during the recent draft annual plan submissions, in Wānaka, Hensman sought another $500,000 grant for the WCG to continue its multi-million dollar war on the pest trees, which started in 2009.

Over the past three years, it’s dealt to 90,977ha in total, and last year it was able to leverage the council grant with other funders to total $3.6m.

Hensman told councillors the annual grant had allowed WCG to confidently bid for further funds from the national programme.

But now Jobs for Nature funding’s drying up, local funding’s even more important to maintain gains.

Speaking to the WCG submission, he said should the council continue its investment in the problem — which to date has saved the district from being ‘‘overrun’’ — other organisations, such as the Otago Regional Council and Department of Conservation, would follow.

‘‘Without this, we cannot fully access the national funds available and multiply the investment.’’

This financial year, WCG will spend $2.6m on wilding control.

It also wants to open two new fronts, on Queenstown Hill and Seven Mile Recreation Reserve.

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  • Additional reporting: Marjorie Cook
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