Swamp kauri export protection claim goes to appeal hearing

Stacked swamp kauri logs on a Northland property. (File photo)

Stacked swamp kauri logs on a Northland property. (File photo)

A Northland environmental group's case for tighter controls on the export of swamp kauri has reached the Court of Appeal.

Ancient swamp kauri, dug up as huge logs from beneath Northland farmland and wetland, has become highly prized in recent years and, since about 2010, an industry has developed around exporting it.

The Northland Environmental Protection Society said the Ministry for Primary Industries should allow the export of swamp kauri only in the form of "finished or manufactured" indigenous timber products, or as stumps or roots.

Researchers stand on a log of swamp kauri during a radiocarbon dating science project led by Associate Professor Alan ...

Researchers stand on a log of swamp kauri during a radiocarbon dating science project led by Associate Professor Alan Hogg, director of the radiocarbon dating laboratory, University of Waikato. (File photo)

It was claimed wood was being described as "table tops", or poles lightly decorated, to get around export requirements.

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The society took a court case against the ministry, the comptroller of Customs, and the Ministry for Culture and Heritage.

A chair carved from swamp kauri. (File photo)

A chair carved from swamp kauri. (File photo)

In March 2017, a High Court judge declined to make any of the orders the society sought, which included wanting any "table top" to be exported with legs or some form of stand.

The society appealed against that decision, which went before a panel of three Court of Appeal judges in Weldlington on Thursday. Justice Rhys Harrison said it might take some time before a decision was issued.

The society's lawyer, Davey Salmon, said even if the court did not make the declarations that were sought, the court's reasons could help commercial and public certainty, and guide MPI's decision-making.

But the court heard the society and the ministry disagreed about how much swamp kauri was being exported, and in what state.

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Salmon said the group had observations, and anecdotal and "whistleblower" evidence, that unfinished swamp kauri was leaving New Zealand described as furniture. He disputed MPI's evidence that more extracted swamp kauri was staying in New Zealand than was exported.

MPI's lawyer Jessica Gorman said it had "serious disagreement" with the society about the form of the kauri being exported. For instance, the society said very large slabs described as table tops for export were not legitimate, but MPI had evidence there was a market to use them in places such as art galleries and boardrooms.

She supported the High Court judge's finding that swamp kauri was managed under a legal regime aimed at sustainable indigenous forest management. It was not possible to sustainably manage a tree that was no longer growing, she said.

Parliament had decided to decrease supervision of finished products for export. MPI encouraged products to be volunteered for inspection, and export decisions made on a case by case basis, she said.

The only swamp kauri that had to be inspected was the less valuable stumps and roots.

 - Stuff

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