Senseless law change will hurt us

NECESSARY FOR GROWTH: Rotting trees are needed to sustain those that are still growing, such as this mature red beech on the West Coast.
NECESSARY FOR GROWTH: Rotting trees are needed to sustain those that are still growing, such as this mature red beech on the West Coast.

This week the Government will introduce under urgency a hastily drafted bill to allow loggers back into our public conservation forests for the first time in 27 years.

The idea was first suggested by the National Party's West Coast candidate Maureen Pugh, and then supported by the prime minister. At first blush it looks like a good idea to make some money from native trees on public conservation land that were blown over by Cyclone Ita.

However, entering the conservation estate and trying to remove and sell "windfall" timber will interrupt the natural ecological cycle, be extraordinarily dangerous, and will probably have significant - unforeseen - economic impacts.

There is unlikely to be much of a market for more native timber than is already available from sustainably managed indigenous forests on private land. These certified foresters are already unable to sell all of the sustainably grown native timber they are entitled to harvest.

When the huge quantities of windfall timber flood the already struggling market, the laws of supply and demand will force down the price and could seriously threaten the existing industry. This includes the South Island Landless Natives Act indigenous timber production forests in Southland.

The forestry industry is already a very dangerous one to work in. Trees blown down in a native forest get caught up in other trees. Chainsawing this timber as it lies tangled, and then hauling or helicoptering the sawn logs out of the forest, would be a life-threatening job.

Fallen trees have a vital role in ensuring our forest ecosystems continue to exist. These trees are not "going to waste". In a forest you can't have live trees without dead trees. The rotting trees release energy and nutrients into the recovering forest that will not come from anywhere else.

Dead trees support a host of life, such as kaka, that feed on the range of grubs and other insects that consume the wood. Birds like kaka and kakariki, and the native bat, pekapeka, also use the holes in these dead trees to nest and roost.

The native forest conservation battles of the 1970s, '80s and '90s stopped the logging of our remaining publicly owned native forests.

In May 2000, "compensation" of $120 million was given to boost the West Coast's economy when the logging of native forests by Timberlands was finally halted. Now that the Government is intending to restart the logging of public conservation forests, will the Coast be expected to return that money?

Our conservation lands are the backbone of the country's brand and tourism industry. They attract huge numbers of tourists to regions like the West Coast. The region needs to move beyond the boom and bust industries that bring short-term, high-risk gain, only to be followed by long-term pain.

The proposed legislation will allow loggers access to the forests for a five-year period, which begs the question: why does the Government intend to rush it through without the normal public submissions and select committee scrutiny?

The legislation will make it even easier to log conservation forests than it is to mine conservation land. Both of those destructive activities will now be subject to fewer restrictions than low-impact tourism operations.

Amazingly, the legislation will also exempt any authorised logger if they break a regional or district plan, dam or divert rivers or streams, trash the beds of rivers and lakes, or cause the discharge of contaminants (including oil and diesel) into the environment.

It's hard to see why loggers taking windfall off conservation land should be allowed to damage the environment in a way that no- one else can on private land. It is also intriguing that the Government is prepared to subsidise the potential destruction of the existing sustainable native timber industry, which uses trees grown on private land.

The Government should not be rushing through legislation that will remove a vital protection against the logging of public conservation forests for short- term electoral advantage.

These fallen trees should be allowed to become the foundation of the new forests that our great- grandchildren will enjoy.

Forest & Bird has been active in the debate on whether our public conservation lands should be kept safe from miners and the oil and gas industry. Now we are having to add loggers to that list.

Kevin Hackwell is advocacy manager for Forest & Bird.

The Dominion Post