11 Jun 2020

'Weeding on a giant scale' - tourism workers swap guiding for clearing wilding pines

6:22 pm on 11 June 2020

Kayak and glacier guides are turning their hand to clearing the country of wilding pines.

It's all part of a $1.1 billion government programme to get those laid off due to Covid-19, back in to work.

So far the Department of Conservation has rescued 340 former hospitality and tourism workers from the dole queue and put them to work doing much needed pest control and track maintenance.

Wilding pines were at the top of the hit list in the Craigieburn Forest Park west of Christchurch, where they shaded out native tussock and mānuka and smothered the habitat relied on by native birds and insects.

Before taking on the job, Rebecca Ferguson was a kayak guide in Franz Josef.

A good number of those formerly employed in the town had relocated to Springfield in Canterbury for at the least the next three months.

"Yeah, I mean, obviously making a career out of tourism it's not been the best. I've got to think what I want to do with the rest of my life now. But I mean it is what it is. Everyone's been affected and you kind of take what you get and yeah, [I'm] lucky to have a job now."

Wilding pines spread near Lake Pukaki.

Wilding pines spread near Lake Pukaki. Photo: MPI

As a former kayak guide, Ferguson was fit but still found her new line of work physically challenging.

"[I use] a lot more leg muscles. I worked as a hiking guide this summer before I kayaked so it's good to kind of use my legs again. There's a lot of upper body with kayaks, but ... [there is] a lot of upper body strength as well [with wilding pines]. After being out of work for nine weeks, the first week was pretty full on."

Alan Tinnelly from the Ministry for Primary Industries said the job of eradicating wilding pines had been going for close to 20 years.

The extra help on offer from former tourism and hospitality workers this year would enable a big push to happen that could finally turn the tide in the battle against pernicious pest, he said.

"The original tree, it seeds, we get the next one and then probably the next one and then in nine years we get the last one. Hopefully that will take it out. So it's not an easy program."

The minister of conservation, Eugenie Sage, was on hand on Thursday to thank her department's latest recruits.

She said they were a perfect fit for the job.

Minister of Conservation visiting workers removing wilding pines in Craigie Burn

Photo: RNZ / Nate McKinnon

"Taking out conifers is hard work, whether it's with loppers, or if you've got a chainsaw, long days on the field, but doing really valuable work. It's tiring, but it's enormously satisfying. It's like weeding on a giant scale."

It was hoped 11,000 jobs would be created helping to clean up the outdoors over the next four years, with $1.1 billion being set aside to make it happen.

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