Windblown timber is a windfall

LIAM HYSLOP
Last updated 12:16 20/06/2014

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Urgent legislation will be passed next week to log native timber on the West Coast blown over during Cyclone Ita, the Conservation Minister says.

Nick Smith will push through the West Coast Windblown Timber (Conservation Lands) Bill under urgency, which will see an estimated 20,000 hectares of forest opened up for logging.

All revenue from royalties from the sale of the logs would go to the Department of Conservation (DOC), Smith said.

It was a pragmatic approach that would enable the timber to be recovered safely and with minimal environmental impact, he said.

"This initiative will provide welcome jobs and economic opportunities for the West Coast at a difficult time, and will provide a financial return to DOC that can be reinvested in conservation work."

Cyclone Ita hit the West Coast on April 17 and caused the worst windfall damage in generations, felling an estimated 20,000 hectares of forest and causing significant damage to a further 200,000 hectares.

The bill would be confined to the recovery of usable wood to areas affected by Cyclone Ita and specifically excluded World Heritage areas, national parks, ecological areas and the white heron sanctuary reserve at Whataroa.

Authorisations would only be issued where the DOC's director-general was satisfied the proposed method of removing the timber was safe for workers and the public, and minimised environmental impacts.

Timber would only be able to be recovered for five years, up until when the bill expired on July 1, 2019.

A law change was needed because the Conservation Act made no provision for timber recovery in this sort of extreme event, Smith said.

The bill would be introduced and passed by Parliament next week under urgency, with the support of the United Future and Maori parties.

"This is necessary because the large volumes of beech timber will soon deteriorate with sap stain and borer."

It was not possible to estimate how much money would come from the sale, but it would be expected to be large, Smith said.

"It is estimated that several million cubic metres of beech, rimu, matai, totara and miro trees have been felled.

"Stumpage prices for rimu are $250 per cubic metre, and $60 per cubic metre for beech."

The Department of Conservation would commission research on the effects on forest regrowth and ecology by comparing similar wind-blown areas where timber has and has not been recovered to help make a long-term policy decision on this issue, Smith said.

"It is a tragedy that so much forest has been wrecked by Cyclone Ita but no good purpose is served by leaving it all to rot.

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"The wood will displace some of the $65 million of tropical hardwoods we import each year and give New Zealanders access to our own beautiful native timbers."

Green Party conservation spokeswoman Eugenie Sage said last month they would never support such a law.

- The Nelson Mail

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