'Zero market' for windblown rimu

A law change allowing limited harvesting of windblown rimu on West Coast conservation land may flounder because there is no longer a market for the wood, a South Island sawmiller says.

The West Coast Windblown Timber (Conservation Lands) Bill passed under urgency last night to allow native wood blown down by Cyclone Ita in April to be salvaged from the conservation estate.

It is believed the winds felled 20,000 hectares of West Coast forest and damaged a further 200,000ha.

Would-be loggers will have to pay stumpage - a price paid to landowners for harvesting rights - of about $250 a cubic metre for rimu and about $60 for beech.

Much of the wood can be extracted only by helicopter, which may make margins slim.

"The logistics of harvesting are going to be enormous," Patrick Milne, a forestry consultant and an executive member of the Farm Forestry Association, said.

"The history of logging native timber on the the West Coast is that if you're breaking even you're doing OK."

Westco Lagan owner Dean Sweetman said his company harvested rimu until logging of native forest effectively ended in the late 1990s.

He said there were few people still milling rimu, and customers had turned to other woods because it was so hard to source.

"Basically, it's a zero market really."

Millers would have to consider the long-term availability of the wood.

"It's all very early," he said.

Forest & Bird this week voiced concerns that the West Coast wood would flood the sustainable native timber industry.

"The idea of not wasting timber may sound superficially sensible, but as soon as you look at the facts, the idea makes no economic sense at all," Forst & Bird advocacy manager Kevin Hackwell said.

UnitedFuture leader Peter Dunne, who visited the West Coast this month, said he was "pleased Parliament will enable New Zealanders to access it rather than leaving it to rot".

The legislation, which will expire in five years, excludes world heritage areas, national parks, ecological areas and the white heron reserve at Whataroa.

West Coast MP Damien O'Connor, one of two Labour MPs who crossed the floor to support the bill, said he supported the bill for the jobs it would create, but he still had reservations.

"The market for indigenous timber has shrunk so that last year only 2000cum of rimu was sold in the country," he said.

"They have to dribble it out on the market. If they dump 4000cum in one year, it would just collapse the market."

The bill did not give West Coasters first option to the wood, an amendment O'Connor had sought.

Others fear the logging could open the door to wider logging on the conservation estate.

Auckland University ecology lecturer Margaret Stanley this week said the bill could remove a potential food source for native species.

Many species lived only on forest deadwood, which in turn acted like a fertiliser for seedlings.

Conservation Minister Nick Smith would not rule out a permanent change to the Conservation Act to enable windblown timber to be recovered, "but I am reluctant to do so with urgent legislation of this sort".