Mokihinui chainsaw massacre
15th February 2013
Mokihinui chainsaw massacre
An ancient Kahikatea tree in the Mokihinui Forks Ecological Area north of Westport, has been felled in dubious circumstances.
The healthy 500 year old tree near the Mokihinui Forks Hut on the Old Ghost Road mountainbike trail, was chain-sawed by a Department of Conservation contractor without consultation with the local community. Many locals are upset at the destruction along the walking track.
The Old Ghost Road is part of Prime Minister John Key’s national cycleway project and is being pushed through the wilderness by a private trust in association with DOC, says says local conservationist, Pete Lusk.
The Mokihinui Forks Ecological Area in the upper Mokihinui River catchment, is rated as a priority site for biodiversity conservation.
“This tree felling is a symbol of how far DOC is prepared to go to assist the Old Ghost Road Trust to carve a trail through this wilderness conservation area,” he says. “This Kahikatea was an iconic and very beautiful tree that they felled despite being asked not to, because they wanted to expand the Forks Hut and the tree apparently “constrained” the site.”
“Now the tree stump and logs are all that remain,” he says. “DOC signed the death warrant on this tree to let the local Trust know that “this is the degree of environmental damage that is acceptable to them and the Department.”
“But it’s not acceptable to many in our local community,” he says. “DOC claims the tree had to go for safety reasons, but it was a perfectly healthy giant tree. There wasn’t a spot of rot in it. I have checked this personally by going through all the rings - yes it has now been sliced up for firewood.”
He says the safety excuse doesnt wash. “The tree did not 'constrain' the site as far as the hut expansion went - the stump is still two metres from the nearest wall.”
“This mighty tree in the prime of its life was over 500 yrs old. It had survived and thrived through many major earthquakes - the big one on the alpine fault in 1717, another huge jolt around 1868, and the mega-quake of 1929 that devastated much of the Mokihinui and was 30 times stronger than the Christchurch quake.”
“On top of that it has stood upright through every gale of the ferocious easterlies in the Mokihinui that bowl over hectares of rainforest at a single blast,” he says. “The only thing that wonderful tree could not survive was a DOC sanctioned chainsaw.”
This Government has absolutely no interest in conservation, says Mr Lusk. “Prime Minister John Key is right behind them doing this.” He says, the cycleway project allowed the DOC regional office in Hokitika to tell the Poutini Conservation Board that the West Coast Conservation
“The regional manager could have added the Conservation Act has been put on hold while the cycleway goes through too, because thats whats happened, “says Mr Lusk. “But more than half the trail passes through the Mokihinui Forks Ecological Area and the kahikatea was inside this area.”
Forest and Bird Top of the South field officer, Debs Martin says the organisation “technically doesn’t have a position on the Old Ghost Road”.
“Over the course of the road’s proposal, several of our individual members have raised concerns. Some have supported the notion of access, but many are very concerned about the type of access into this remote backcountry area,” she says.
“More recently ongoing concerns have come in regarding ... the large scale of the industrial activity that has happened and will be required to complete this road,” she says.
“A huge section [of the track] in the middle is still not complete and is faced with significant geological challenges. It traverses hard rock mountain top surfaces with 1000m drop-offs.”
“A related issue is the obvious domination by the Trust in the ‘ownership’ of the road and the huts en route,” says Ms Martin. “Huts were meant to be available for the public, but some members have already found them locked.
Other concerns are coming to light regarding potential overriding of the CMS and other DOC guiding documents.”
“Forest and Bird definitely has concerns about the Old Ghost Road and we are seeking further information as well as working through the issues,” she says.
Conservationist Pete Lusk agrees that one of the biggest negatives was the way the 'upgrade' of the Old Ghost Road track bypassed normal planning procedures and opened up a wilderness that DOC's West Coast Conservation Management Strategy (CMS) had wanted protected.
"When the local Conservation Board questioned DOC they were told that the CMS didn't apply since the money had come from the Ministry of Economic Development, he says.
"This had everyone gobsmacked, including me. I'd worked on the CMS when on the conservation board a dozen years ago. DOC kept stressing to us how important the document was and that CMS will be our "Bible". DOC's senior planner said then that everything that happened on public conservation land on the West Coast would be governed by the CMS."
"Well, here's a project that isnt! In fact the Old Ghost Road flys in the face of the CMS and allows a private trust to blast away at mountaintops and build huts in a very sensitive area," he says.
"The isolation of the Mokihinui means, for example, that many side creeks have no weeds. Its wonderful to see original creekbed vegetation - no ragwort, no thistles, no browntop, no white clover. Its hard to see this remaining when the area is opened up to bikers and trampers."
"Its as though John Key and Gerry Brownlee have put one over us, bulldozing their way through the environmental safeguards it took us year to get in place," he says.