Logging conservation reserves and protected parks – a tragic end to 27 years of our NZ Forest Accord.
Over my 60 years living in New Zealand- Aotearoa, I have felt admiration and pride in the extraordinary achievements of New Zealanders in protecting our natural environment.
A large number of New Zealanders led by Forest and Bird – right across the full range of the political spectrum of Parliament – have fought to save New Zealand’s native forest and wildlife from logging and pests.
A number of us have then successfully demonstrated through ecotourism that we can create more jobs and sustainable revenue by saving and cherishing ancient trees than through chopping them down for timber.
What drives us is the knowledge that our eco-tourism efforts are helping make sure that New Zealand’s unique native forests and their wildlife are safe, permanently protected and valued for all the extraordinarily valuable roles they perform on Planet Earth.
On Thursday night June 26 2014, my beliefs were dashed in the progress we have all achieved over the last 30 years. On Thursday night our Government rushed through the West Coast Wind-blown Timber (Conservation Lands) Bill under urgency.
There was no opportunity for any public comment.
After 27 years or more of total protection, this new law opens for logging a schedule of 100 areas of fully protected public conservation land extending nearly 400km down the West Coast from Karamea to the Glaciers. These include:
• West Coast Scenic Reserves such as Lake Kaniere, Lewis Pass, Lady Lake, Okuku and Poerua River and Whataroa Scenic Reserves.
• West Coast Amenity Reserves including Lake Hanlon, Lake Haupiri and Ahaura Road Amenity Areas.
• Much of the lowland forest of the Victoria Conservation Park
• The North Westland Wildlife Corridor Wildlife Management Reserve.
• Vast areas of stewardship conservation land
It also includes land specifically bought by Lands & Survey for National Park/Scenic Reserve in 1986 (Bullock Creek Farm) but never added by DOC to the National Park and the Punakaiki (Black Petrel) Nature Reserve.
The new law permits the Director General of Conservation to authorise the extraction of dead & “dying” native trees from these fully legally protected reserves. Dying is a very loose term and includes trees that are thought likely to die as a consequence of cyclone damage. In the past, this loose category was used by the Forest Service to extract mature healthy trees under the pretext that they were “dying” – aren’t we all!
Live native trees that are standing can also be felled and presumably also extracted to allow access to the windfall trees. Loggers can also drag the trees across streams and rivers without bridges in breach of the environmental protections of the Resource Management Act enforced by Regional Councils.
The RMA provisions have been suspended under this extraordinary new law. Moreover the law lifts the NZ Forest Act restrictions on the export of native timber from these forests.
With the most minimal processing, a huge Chinese timber processing market will be available for what might be called “Ancient dinosaur conifer wood from NZ forest reserves” or whatever fancy brand name is given to market our NZ Rimu wood in China. That market may be as insatiable as it is for ivory and for swamp kauri.
The probable major rise in price this export market will create, in the backwoods of NZ where I live and elsewhere, a huge opportunity for a rimu timber black market. For anyone with a HIAB lift on the back of their truck and a chainsaw under the cover of darkness, rimu wood can be sourced from and untraceable to every roadside scenic reserve or national park.
Regulators won’t have a clue whether the rimu & matai wood on the export wharves in Port Nelson or Port Chalmers comes from windthrow West Coast wood, the Pelorus Bridge Scenic Reserve, Nelson Lakes National Park or the Haast Valley of Mt Aspiring National Park. Woodchip export of beech, presently prohibited, may also be another nightmare that will rear its utterly destructive head because there is little market within NZ for beech wood especially hard beech.
Until Thursday, it was hard enough, but still feasible, for the indigenous forest management unit of the Ministry of Primary Industries (IFM) to monitor the small volume of sustainably harvested native timber in the NZ market used primarily for high quality decorative furniture. They were generally successful in this.
They even successfully prosecuted offenders such as Glacier Sawmilling of Harihari fined $133,000 in August 2011 for milling unauthorised rimu logs. Now with the Government pushing around 20 times that sustainable volume of native timber onto the market, IFM won’t have a hope of regulating the huge increase in native timber being milled or exported with minimal processing.
The saddest impact of this rushed through law is that it will destroy much of the public credibility and trust in the operations of the Department of Conservation that have developed since its origins in 1987.
The general public will no longer see DOC as the guardians of our treasured nature heritage. DOC will have to be in charge of identifying, authorising and facilitating the extraction of native timber from protected conservation lands – a rather conflicted role, given that its mandate is to conserve our protected lands
Now we are on the eve of resurrecting the bad old days of conflicted Government land management agencies. The day after the bill passed through Parliament on June 27, I drove 250km south from Hokitika down Highway 6 to Lake Moeraki. Near Pukekura, I passed 2 logging trucks loaded with rimu logs heading north. In Ferguson’s Bush Scenic Reserve, rimu logs on the roadside have been removed over the last 2 months to who knows where. . The La Fontaine Scenic Reserve near Harihari had a logging track towards its western end along which logs had clearly been extracted. How many of these operations were legal? Does anyone now know? Does anyone now care?
The renaissance of rimu logging and the untraceable nature of many of the logs is the nightmare that the new conservation logging law visits on the West Coast. I am about to send DOC our company 2013-2014 nature guiding concession fees totalling thousands of dollars.
I hate the prospect of that money being used by DOC to establish and run its native forests logging supervision unit. Mark my word, much taxpayer money will certainly be required to carry out DOC’s new native forest logging role just as this role nearly bankrupted the old Forest Service. Surveying, planning, mapping, measuring, log marking/scaling, monitoring and restoration are all high cost specialised roles. The staff in DOC will also hate their new logging role. That wasn’t what most of them signed up for.
On January 29 2014, DOC was tasked by its Minister, Dr Nick Smith, to carry out this winter-spring a 6 fold increase in its NZ aerial pest control operations to save our wildlife heritage from an irruption of pests because of a massive beech seeding year. This is the core of the Government’s “Battle for our Birds” campaign and it is most welcome. Successfully completing this major up-scaling in conservation work is already putting huge pressure on DOC staff especially on the West Coast where the bulk of the pest control is to occur. DOC’s latest logging supervision role, coming on top of this and its 2013 re-structuring, will place even greater pressure on the department, almost certainly at the expense of their focus on the Battle for our Birds and DOC’s other heritage protection roles including marine conservation.
The Bill is now law but any logging will require detailed logging prescriptions to be prepared and approved by the Director General of Conservation. There will need to be a very high level of public scrutiny of these plans and any permitted operations. We must not allow roading and machinery to destroy any healthy forest. They must not be allowed to drag trees across waterways. There should be no access permitted through Ecological Areas and National Parks to the logging areas beyond. Ultimately we need to seek the repeal of this dreadful and precedent setting law. Our Public Conservation Lands are our treasures set aside by the people of New Zealand for permanent protection. We all successfully campaigned for these areas for biodiversity protection, wildlife refuges, for catchment protection and erosion control , as places to recreate and as enormous sinks of carbon. These areas were never set aside as a convenient stockpile of logs for a resurrected native timber industry.