For our latest issue, photographer Derek Henderson captures an evergreen invasion of wilding pines in the MacKenzie Basin of the South Island of New Zealand. Though native to North America, the unruly conifers were introduced to New Zealand in 1880. Millions of dollars are spent on controlling their spread each year as they threaten 210,000 hectares of public land administered by the Department of Conservation. Through Henderson’s lens, however, they’re towering examples that: as in life, nature is complicated.
WORDS & PHOTOGRAPHS BY DEREK HENDERSON
I have seen the wilding pines over the past 25 years encroaching and decimating the area of the MacKenzie Basin on the South Island of New Zealand. Wilding pines are made up of many types of pine that were introduced into New Zealand over 100 years ago, the most invasive being Pinus contorta, Corsican pine, and Douglas fir. When I first started visiting the area over 25 years ago, you would see great open plains with hardly any trees at all. It was beautiful in its starkness.
I have also been visiting the beech forests in an area at the top of Lake Wakatipu on the South Island for over 30 years. I go for walks up the streams running off the mountain ranges in the area. The forest is so thick that this is the best way to penetrate it. There is a feeling of vulnerability when you are in the forest: You are small and insignificant and on your own. It’s also very quiet, apart from the bird calls. In New Zealand, there aren’t any wild animals that can harm you, so it’s safe in that regard. That environment of the forest versus the open plains of the MacKenzie Basin and the Nevis Valley are extremes, but both are so beautiful in their own way. Both are environments threatened by the wilding pines.
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It’s not the wilding pine’s fault that it spreads and loves the conditions in New Zealand. These were mistakes made over 100 years ago, when the pines were introduced and we as humans didn’t understand the impact they would have on the local environment. If left unchecked, it will cost the New Zealand government anywhere between one and five billion NZD just to control the spread of the pines.
This is about balance and compromise, it’s about education and understanding. People need to live a meaningful life and feel part of a community and care about their environment at the same time. But life, just by its nature, is complicated, and it’s not as easy as it sounds to do those things. How do we feed all the people in the world? Where do they live? I feel most people are aware of these problems now, though, and are prepared to at least take action to balance the natural world with our own desires and needs to live a fulfilling life.