Putting pines in their place for Christmas

Department of Conservation —  20/12/2019

By Jess MacKenzie, Communications Advisor

The pine: a classic tree of joyous festivities, or destructive pest? The Hawke’s Bay team headed out of the office with their Christmas tinsel and silky saws to investigate further.

Christmas tree.
Christmas Tree

The Hawke’s Bay team used their recent end-of-year Christmas outing as a chance to visit and learn more about Kaweka Forest Park.

Despite being one of our prime public conservation spaces in Hawke’s Bay, covering 60,000 hectares, not everyone had visited this part of the park before. We work in a range of different jobs to support conservation and the trip was a great chance to understand some of the challenges at the site and how our office contributes to this area.

The Kaweka Forest Park – pine and scree slopes

The Kaweka Ranges are a mix of shrublands, mountain and red beech, podocarp forest, tussock valleys, subalpine tops – and contorta pine trees. The pines really shouldn’t be there.

Pines were planted with the best of intentions in the ’60s and ’70s as a way to try and stabilise the landscape. Any local tramper will tell you about the steep scree slopes, and back then they were seen as a problem to fix rather than the natural feature they actually are.

However, the very reasons they were planted – like their ability to grow quickly in New Zealand soil – are the reasons they’ve become such a plague, not just locally but across New Zealand.

Wilding pines and other introduced conifer species are New Zealand’s number one pest plant. They grow fast and overwhelm the landscape, smothering native plants and ruining the habitats of different invertebrate and bird species.

In the Kaweka Forest Park, the fire risk is also a big issue in summer. Hawke’s Bay is renowned for its dry summers and droughts. A spark can turn to a major fire just like that, which is made worse because pines are thirsty trees and tend to dry out water flows.

Alan Lee gives the Hawke’s Bay team an overview of the pine problem

The pines have spread out across the landscape, pushing back the mānuka scrub and taking over the scree slopes. With so little native habitat, along with other challenges like predation and deer grazing, it’s easy to understand why Hawke’s Bay doesn’t boast the bird life it once used to.

Alan Lee, who’s a key player in the charge against local wilding pines, outlined to the team the current strategy to deal with the problem. It’s not an overnight fix.

The control programme for wilding pines in the Kaweka started in 1981. In the last four years, however, the containment spread so the programme was given a significant boost through funding from the National Wilding Control Plan.

Hawke’s Bay team getting stuck in

The Hawke’s Bay team then made our own small contribution to wilding pine control, tearing young pines roots and all from the soil with our bare fists or cutting the trees carefully near the ground, making sure to leave no needles on the stump. These tenacious pines grow back if there’s even just a few needles attached to the living root – another challenge for pine control.

Showing off the wilding spoils

While the team were out and about, they also took the time to learn a little of the human history of Kuripapango. The area used to be a popular stopover spot back in the day as people made their way over the windy, narrow Gentle Annie road by horse and carriage.

The team enjoyed an excellent Christmas lunch, a game of Secret Santa pressie snatch, and a quick dip in the Ngaruroro river. A great way to celebrate the end of the year, learn about the local landscapes and help our native species against wilding pines.

Gathering around for Secret Santa pressie snatch

What can you do?

If you are disposing of your Christmas tree – don’t dump them in the wild, because if they’re coning, the seeds can still spread. Make sure they are disposed of at the rubbish tip.

DOC is responsible for wilding conifer infestations on public conservation land but we are by no means the only ones taking action.

Students doing wilding pine control near Lake Clearwater, Ashburton Lakes Area, Canterbury.
Students doing wilding pine control near Lake Clearwater near Ashburton

Some trampers and hunters carry little folding saws to cut down small wilding pines. If you do this, it’s important to cut down the whole tree stump and not leave any branches or green needles behind.

Extremely small seedlings can be pulled out by hand which is very effective as there is no risk of re-growth.

Pulling out wilding conifer saplings

If you’re interested in getting more involved, you can join a wilding weeds group or find out how you can prevent the spread of wilding pines on land you manage.

So, when you’re admiring your beautiful Christmas tree these holidays, don’t forget their nefarious wilding relatives causing havoc for conservationists.

5 responses to Putting pines in their place for Christmas


    We assisted with the pinus contorta problem on the central plateau and it appeared initially to be an impossible feat. Now seeing the result after 30 years is a welcomed sight of native beauty.


    I agree with you, because untill now in my country still sell that trees for christmas.

    Carole A Stewart 30/12/2019 at 12:31 pm

    Well written and engaging. An informative history and road track forward. Thankyou. I shall certainly and keenly pass this on.


    Excellent little reminder… I just shared this in social media to remind people 🙂 Thanks DOC

    Claudia Mason 21/12/2019 at 4:06 pm

    interesting.- a problem, we need to do something about it.