Over the last 100 years the Skippers landscape has changed dramatically due to the spread of wilding pines. To protect the historic, recreational and biodiversity values which are present, the Department of Conservation in conjunction with the Wakatipu Wilding Conifer Control Group, is undertaking the spraying and removal of all remaining douglas fir and larch trees on public conservation land around the Skippers township. These trees act as seed sources spreading new trees across the landscape.
Locals have known for a while that something needs to be done about the wilding trees, as recognised by Colin Macnicol whose father was raised in Skippers;
“My father Duncan was saying 50 years ago we’re going to have to do something about the pine trees so I’m very pleased to see the spray work being done - it’s the best way to restore the land back to what it used to be. The spraying originally looks devastating but it will disintegrate over time and in the future will be unnoticeable.”
The works are part of a district wide wilding pine control programme; since 2006 approximately $400,000 has been spent on aerial and ground control of wildings in Skippers alone. The latest operation will be carried out at some point over the next 3 weeks and will require the closure of the reserve from the Skippers bridge for 1 day. The exact date remains weather dependent, however regular commercial users have been informed and signs will be posted at Skippers saddle on the day prior to and the day of the operation.
This is a project which has required careful consideration and the Department commissioned an independent report by Peter Petchey (Southern Archaeology Ltd) on the history and cultural significance of the trees at Skippers. The report acknowledges the cultural and recreational significance of the trees but accepts the ecological need for the remaining trees to be removed. The Department is currently seeking funding for a conservation plan for the Skippers township which will address the issues of suitable replanting and how to best manage the site. Conservation Services Manager John Roberts says;
“Long-term we want people to be able to better enjoy the historic and recreational opportunities in Skippers. Our plans will likely include improvements to the campsite and walking tracks. Replanting with non-spreading trees will form an important part of any works and we will make sure the character of the area is restored.”
It is recognised that there will be a transition period of several years where dead standing trees are highly visible. Adin May of Southern Explorer is one of the commercial operators who regularly takes tourists to the Skippers township, and will be affected by the visual impact of the pine control works. He is supportive of the work being undertaken; “I understand the ecological importance of preserving the natural systems in Skippers; controlling the wilding trees has clear long term benefits. There will be short term changes to the product we offer but we already incorporate the ecological message as part of our tour and will look at modifying the product to include an opportunity to help with the replanting”.
Non-wilding tree species will not be sprayed nor will the cemetery area. Trees which are near the township or road that might pose a safety hazard as they die back will be removed.