Plan to recover timber questioned

Removing fallen timber from the West Coast will interrupt natural forest life cycles and does not make economic sense, Forest and Bird say.

Yesterday, Conservation Minister Nick Smith announced legislation would be passed under urgency next week to remove and sell native timber on the West Coast blown over during Cyclone Ita.

Forest and Bird top of the south field officer Debs Martin said she was flabbergasted, but not surprised, by the decision.

"Where is the democracy around that? Where is the discussion or select committee?

"It's the kind of decision that shows the way the Government operates."

Smith said millions of cubic metres of timber fell during the April 17 storm but only a small part of that would be economic to recover and sell.

A crude preliminary estimate by the Ministry for Primary Industries found 105,000 cubic metres rimu and 36,000cum of beech would be able to be recovered under the tight safety and environmental controls.

Based on stumpage rates, this could yield more than $28 million worth of timber and the Department of Conservation (DOC) would get a cut of this, through royalties and fees, to put into conservation.

But Martin said the removal of the logs would have a detrimental effect on the forests. "Trees have been falling down for years, it's all part of the forest life cycle.

"If you remove them then that interrupts the cycle.

"It's ripping off our conservation land by saying the money made will then go back into conservation."

Fallen trees provide shelter and space for other parts of the ecosystem, Martin said.

Smith said there was no reason to leave the trees where they were.

"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.

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

Martin said the logging would take business away from an already sustainable native forestry market.

It did not make financial sense to authorise the logging and the money DOC would gain from the initiative would be small, she said.

Four companies had already expressed interest in logging the estimated 20,000 hectares of forest where logs fell.

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

Logging 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.

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

Both the Maori Party and UnitedFuture were supporting the legislation to get it over the line.

Maori Party co-leader Te Ururoa Flavell said the initiative provided a silver lining for the community which bore the brunt of the storm.

"Ngai Tahu has expressed their support in principle for the opportunities presented by the legislation and we will support their preference for opportunities for the harvesting of the wind-blown timber and its proceeds to be reinvested into the West Coast community."

The Nelson Mail