Maverick Professor Threatens to Assemble Eco-Army

Government-owned farming corporation Landcorp and the Department of Conservation are at loggerheads over the potential threat of wilding (it’s a real word, look it up) Douglas-fir trees spreading onto conservation land.

Landcorp planted 189ha of Douglas-fir trees on Waipori Station near Dunedin in July 2012. Emeritus Professor and conservationist Sir Alan Mark, of the University of Otago’s Department of Botany, has made headlines after suggesting to Landcorp that he will assemble an army of activists to eradicate the seedlings from the 189ha block. Prof Mark says that Douglas-fir trees are “known to produce massive wind seed”, and therefore the block threatens important tussock land reserves in the Te Papanui Conservation Park and the Stoney Creek Scenic Reserve.

Prof Mark’s comments have left the Forest Owners’ Association (FOA) “dismayed”. FOA Environment Committee Chair Peter Weir remarked in a press release: “It’s one thing for the Professor to be a passionate advocate for environmental causes. It’s quite another to threaten vigilante action and to incite trespass.”

Critic spoke with Prof Mark, who said it is “an insult to our efforts to contain wilding” that Landcorp would plant a 189ha Douglas-fir forest right up against prime conservation land known to be vulnerable to wilding seeds.

Landcorp’s own consultants had “assessed the wilding threat as serious”, and had sought specialist advice on how to prevent a spread from occurring. However, Prof Mark said that Landcorp’s plan for a 250m-wide buffer zone planted with Ponderosa pines would have “no beneficial effect” with regard to controlling the wilding, especially given that the site itself was “highly exposed to strong winds”.

While the FOA pointed out that the forest is part of Landcorp’s endeavours to offset carbon emissions in light of the $13 million bill they could face under climate change rules, Prof Mark stressed the need for a further analysis by Landcorp to assess the actual offset the forest would provide, given the falling value of carbon.

Prof Mark maintained that he would still “seriously consider” assembling his eco-army, although he was also calling for the removal of the seedlings in an open letter to Minister of State-Owned Enterprises Tony Ryall.
This article first appeared in Issue 19, 2012.
Posted 4:49pm Sunday 5th August 2012 by Claudia Herron.