'Zero market' for wind-felled rimu negates bill

CATHERINE HARRIS
Last updated 05:00 28/06/2014

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

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

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

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 only be removed by helicopter, which may make margins slim.

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

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

Dean Sweetman, owner of Westco Lagan, said his company used to harvest rimu until logging of native forest effectively ended in the late 1990s. There were a few people still milling rimu but customers had turned to other woods because it was so hard to source. "Basically it's a zero market, really."

This week, Forest & Bird also voiced concerns that the West Coast wood would flood the existing 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," Forest & Bird advocacy manager Kevin Hackwell said.

But 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 bill, to expire in five years, specifically excludes World Heritage Areas, national parks, ecological areas and the white heron sanctuary reserve at Whataroa.

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

"If they dump 4000 cubic metres in one year, it would just collapse the market."

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