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December, 2015

Fire risk spreads with wilding conifers

Wilding conifers have long been considered a risk to our ecologically significant highland regions, but they may also significantly increase wildfire hazards

The invasion of unwanted wilding conifers throughout highland farming and conservation areas has been recognised as a problem for many years. These species dramatically alter the nature of the ecosystem, and are hard to displace once established. However, wilding conifers also pose a threat to the wider environment by greatly increasing the amount of fuel available to support wildfires. This effect was evident in the 2008 Mount Cook Station fire that consumed 750 ha of wildings and grassland. However, resolving the problem using herbicide sprays to kill the wildings must be considered carefully, as this approach will leave a large quantity of drying wood amongst the grassland for many years, acting to further increase the fire hazard during this window of time. To help develop improved systems to both reduce fire risk and control fires once they have started, Scion fire scientists have been conducting experimental wilding conifer burns near Twizel. This research, undertaken with the support of local landowners and regional fire fighters, will provide new data that will improve the management of wilding confer stands and support decision making during fire incidents.

Scion’s Rural Fire Research Team is based in Christchurch and carries out research on fire in New Zealand's forests and rural landscapes. The team focuses on understanding how fires are likely to behave in different weather conditions, terrain and fuel types, and the factors affecting public and fire fighter safety that are essential to fire management and prevention.

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