Harvesting windblown timber wrong

KEVIN HACKWELL
Last updated 13:20 23/06/2014
Storm damage near Whataroa, South Westland
TV3

FLATTENED: Aerial pictures from TV3 show widespread damage from Cyclone Ita near Whataroa, South Westland.

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OPINION: Special legislation is to be passed by Parliament to enable the recovery of native timber blown over in Cyclone Ita on West Coast public conservation land. KEVIN HACKWELL of Forest & Bird says this is a bad idea.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and so are economic opportunities.

Some people have seen the chance to make a quick buck from the native trees that were growing on public conservation land on the West Coast until the trees were uprooted by Cyclone Ita over Easter.

The Government has followed up by introducing The West Coast Windblown Timber (Conservation Lands) Bill to allow loggers to sell the trees they find on the conservation estate.

However, for most professionals with any experience in forestry, the sustainable native timber industry (which uses trees grown on private land) or conservation, the idea of entering the conservation estate and trying to cut down and remove "windfall" timber, and then trying to sell it, is either extraordinarily dangerous, and/or a quick way to go broke, and/or a conservation crime.

The idea came from the National Party's West Coast candidate, Maureen Pugh. Since then it has been embraced by the Government, which wants to quickly pass special legislation that will allow loggers to go onto the conservation estate.

All the parties must know that native timber is already available from sustainably managed private indigenous forests. These certified operations are unable to sell all of the timber they are entitled to harvest.

The laws of supply and demand would mean that this already struggling market would be flooded by the addition of windfall timber, forcing down prices and killing off the existing industry.

The operators of Southland's sustainable indigenous timber production forests, which are managed under the South Island Landless Natives Act, would be particularly affected.

The net result of a law change is likely to be that most of the timber that gets harvested would just sit and rot in stockpiles around the West Coast, rather than in the region's forests.

That's if the windfall timber could be harvested at all. Sadly the forestry industry is already a very dangerous one to work in, despite most of the plantation timber being felled in a controlled way.

Trees blown down in a native forest get caught up in other trees.

Chainsawing this timber while it was tangled in other trees, and then hauling or helicoptering the sawn logs out of the forest, would be a seriously life-threatening job.

The other reason for letting this timber lie is that it has a vital role in ensuring our forest ecosystems continue to exist.

A rotting tree is nature's way of recycling its nutrients and its stored energy back into the forest ecosystem.

Rotting trees support a host of life, such as kaka, which feed on the range of grubs and other insects that consume the wood. The kakariki and the pekapeka (the native bat) use the holes in these dead trees as nesting and roosting sites.

By the time a tree has rotted completely, all the nutrients it built up during its life have been released back into the soil, and made available to the next generation of seedlings that will grow into the new forest giants.

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Giving access to the conservation estate would create a precedent that would be very dangerous.

The native forest conservation battles of the 1970s and 80s stopped the logging of these forests. Our conservation forests should be safe from miners, the oil and gas industry, and loggers.

Alarmingly, Conservation Minister Nick Smith is openly speculating about making a permanent law change that would forever give loggers the right to log windthrown timber on conservation land.

The conservation estate belongs to all New Zealanders, including those who are not yet born. It does not exist to subsidise sloppily- devised, knee-jerk, get-rich schemes that only sound good until you consider all the costs.

Our conservation lands are also the backbone of the country's brand, which New Zealand benefits from in so many ways. They attract huge numbers of tourists, particularly to the West Coast region.

The Coast's leaders need to move their thinking beyond the boom and bust industries that bring short-term, high-risk gain, only to be followed by long-term pain. What the Coast needs is sustainable solutions to the area's unemployment problem, solutions that work on further capitalising - in a sustainable way - on the area's natural resources, without destroying them.

These fallen trees are the foundation of the new forests that our great-grandchildren will enjoy. To take them in order to win some votes in an area that is suffering a downturn - and in doing so subsidise the destruction of an existing, sustainable industry - is wrong.

Kevin Hackwell is advocacy manager of Forest & Bird.

- The Press

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