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Independent Inquiry Into Beech Scheme Backed

A former Parliamentary commissioner for the Environment, Dr Helen Hughes, has joined the growing number of scientists calling for an independent inquiry over the government's decision to stop beech logging on the West Coast. John Howard reports.

Dr Hughes wrote to the now-Prime Minister, Helen Clark, before the election and to the new Environment Minister, Marion Hobbs after the election, expressing concern with the plan to stop the logging.

Dr Hughes says New Zealand needs to learn how to manage areas like beech forests and the best way to do that is to study the effects of careful logging.

She says the Timberlands logging scheme was an opportunity for the country to learn how to sustainably manage indigenous forest and that has now been lost.

But Forest and Bird conservation director, Kevin Smith, says a logging inquiry would be pointless.

Mr Smith says sustainable logging in native forests does not work, as it exposes the forest to weeds and pests and threatens native wildlife in the forests.

He said the West Coast will make more money from tourism centred around the forests, than from continued logging.

However, the West Coast lobby-group Coast Action Network chairman, Barry Nicolle, describes Mr Smiths comments as nothing more than " unsubstantiated and unsupported assertions."

Mr Nicolle said the return from tourism per hectare is $45 while forest returns are $400 per hectare.

" The Government is offering the West Coast a total timber compensation package worth $68 million but what it planned to remove was $30 million annually. It doesn't stack up," he said.

" The statements being made by the government and the environmentalists would never be accepted in the international community because they are not based on proper scientific appraisal and risk assessment," Mr Nicolle added.

"The WTO, for example, would laugh their statements out of that forum because they are not based on science. It is highly probable the statements could be doing our country an enormous amount of damage in the international investment community," Mr Nicolle said.

Grey District mayor, Kevin Brown, said he was aware of a withdrawal of investment proposals last year because of government's intentions.

Mr Nicolle is also challenging the logic and consistency of the environment movement's claims

"We note that Japanese company, Juken Nissho Ltd is to clear-fell up to 500,000 tonnes of exotic forests in the Far North. What about increased weeds, pests and loss of biodiversity and native wildlife there? And what about the loss of those forests as a carbon-sink to help eliminate greenhouse gases?" Mr Nicolle said.

"Are the government and greens not concerned about that, or are they seriously saying that only some biodiversity, native wildlife and pests are important? Why can clear-felling exotic forests be sustainable and very selective indigenous felling not be? We urgently need that independent inquiry," Mr Nicolle said.

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