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Conservationist & Forest Scientists Want Inquiry


5 January 1999

Timberlands Decision: Conservationist And Forest Scientists Call For Inquiry

Internationally renowned scientists striving to find ecologically sustainable forestry around the world expressed disappointment at the Governments decision to abandon completely the Timberlands West Coast (TWCL) sustainable beech harvests. They want a public inquiry to expose the loss of conservation benefits from halting the scheme.

"The decision to abandon a bold new initiative, with remarkable long-term conservation potential for New Zealand and the world, is hard to understand" said Dr. Grahame Webb, Chairman of the Australasian Sustainable Use Specialist Group of the IUCN - World Conservation Union. "We have always looked at this New Zealand project as an important light at the end of the tunnel with sustainable forestry, which could provide international leadership" said Dr Webb.

Dr Webb's statements are echoed by Professor Sands, the Head of the Forestry School at the University of Canterbury. "We need an independent inquiry, such as from the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, or the Primary Production Parliamentary Select Committee into the procedure leading up to the premature halting of TWC's RMA consent application by Peter Hodgson and Helen Clark. This decision has far reaching implications for indigenous forestry throughout New Zealand and considerable damage has been done" said Professor Sands.

"Already we have spent $3 million and five years in painstaking research to make this project ecologically sustainable. The government's knee-jerk reaction to cut the hearing short when just 2 days more were needed for the RMA Commissioners to make their assessment was motivated by political expediency. It is obvious that the Ministers have been very poorly advised by a group of well-meaning ardent preservationists" said Professor Sands. The TWC proposal was an innovative and exciting initiative that would have increased rather than decreased conservation values ".

The IUCN is an international conservation body with over 850 member organisations that provides global leadership in the race to conserve wildlife and natural resources in a world rapidly climbing from a crowded 6 billion people towards an estimated 9 billion within a few decades. It has established panels of expert scientists throughout the world to advance global understanding of how natural resources such as timber and wildlife can be used responsibly and sustainably.

"The Timberlands project was a superb example of a scientifically-based and very genuine effort in ecologically sustainable timber harvesting. Part of the profits from timber use were to be reinvested in active and ongoing conservation stewardship, increasing the conservation value of the forests. People were not going to be the enemy in this project, but rather real partners in it with real incentives to ensure it worked" said Dr Webb.

"The extremes of total protection on the one hand, and rape and pillage on the other, has plagued conservation-development debates globally for decades. It drives wedges between rural and urban peoples, and between developed and developing nations. It has created political mayhem, in which truth has become one of many casualties. We need to find amicable ways in which conservation and development can be pursued together, which is what the Timberlands project was all about. The Timberlands project was at the cutting edge of contemporary conservation based on sustainable use" said Dr Webb.

"The main conservation challenge for the next millennium is not about how many more protected areas we can declare. Protected areas are critically important but they account for only a small proportion of the biodiversity and natural resources. The real challenge is about conservation on the lands that all nations need for production and the well being of their people".

"In resource-rich Australia and New Zealand we have been through a long period where "protectionism" was the only tool that conservationists could use. Back then it was urgently needed. But now conservation programs based on sustainable use can give benefits to people and the environment together and are being implemented all around the world. The new shift of emphasis to sustainable use ruffles the feathers of some conservation leaders who have fought hard for entirely a preservation approach to conservation.

"The Timberlands project was very much one of these forward-thinking initiatives. It came well before its time in New Zealand in terms of public education and political acceptance" said Professor Sands. "But to abandon it altogether is a drastic step. It leaves the world - not just New Zealand - without the benefits of a bold and important initiative with remarkable conservation significance" said Professor Sands.


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