MAFBNZ to discontinue funding national Dutch Elm Disease programme

5 June 2008

MAF Biosecurity New Zealand (MAFBNZ) will discontinue funding national management of the Dutch Elm Disease programme.

This follows a decision that national management of the disease is not a priority when compared to other organisms that threaten the health and lifestyle of New Zealanders, our environment and our cultural and economic wellbeing.

"This decision was not taken lightly. It followed evaluation of 20 of the worst pests established in New Zealand to decide which can and should be eradicated from New Zealand or contained to localised areas" said Andrew Harrison Manager Pest Management Group, MAFBNZ.

"National programmes are being established or strengthened for 11 of the 20 pests, including eradication of pests such as salvinia (Kariba weed), which completely smothers waterways and impacts on public safety, water quality, native plants, power generation and irrigation schemes. However, Dutch Elm Disease is not among these.

"In reaching its decision MAFBNZ accepted the recommendations of a joint central and regional government advisory group, with input from a separate panel of technical experts" said Mr Harrison.

Instead of immediately discontinuing the programme MAFBNZ has offered assistance to territorial authorities, which are collectively the single biggest group of elm owners in New Zealand. Elms have been a significant amenity species used in local council plantings.

MAFBNZ approached chief executives and mayors of all (86) territorial authorities and proposed three options. If they collectively committed:

  1. Greater than $200,000 per annum over the next ten years; MAFBNZ would assist by coordinating delivery of the programme and contribute 1/3 of programme costs (the minimum cost of a full programme is $300,000 per annum).
  2. Between $100,000 and $200,000; if requested, MAFBNZ would act as a facilitator for a limited time to enable councils to maintain the programme, but would not provide further financial contribution.
  3. Less than $100,000; MAFBNZ would quickly transition out of the programme and allow regional or local authorities to manage or react to Dutch Elm Disease as they wish.

"Thirty-three territorial authorities responded to MAFBNZ's proposal. A total funding commitment of $99,500 was received from 14 territorial authorities. This was considered close enough to the $100,000 trigger point to invoke the second option" said Mr Harrison.

Mr Harrison said MAFBNZ is now actively working to transfer the programme to interested councils over an 18-month period.

"Until any new arrangements are in place, the public should continue to report potential cases of Dutch Elm Disease to MAFBNZ on 0800 80 99 66. Calls will be forwarded to the relevant Territorial Authority."

Dutch Elm Disease (Ophiostoma ulmi) is a fungal disease spread by bark beetles, but can also spread directly through root grafting between neighbouring trees. The symptoms of infection include firstly; wilting, curling, or yellowing of the leaves and secondly dying or dead branches and trees. It has no human health impacts nor does it affect native plants. Elms are not a significant commercial forestry species in New Zealand. It is currently contained in the Auckland area where it was found in 1989. An earlier outbreak in Napier was eradicated.

ENDS

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