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Coast Leaders Seek Legal Advice On Logging Accord

A coalition of leaders on the West Coast, including the three mayors, are to seek legal advice in an effort to pin down the obligations of the new Labour Government under the West Coast Accord. Scoop's West Coast correspondent John Howard reports.

The Accord was signed by a Labour Government in 1986 but it looks likely to be overturned by the new Labour government as early as today.

At issue is clause four and clause nine of the Accord. Clause four states; " ......that indigenous forest be managed to allow a continuity of supply of indigenous timber in perpetuity."

Clause nine states " A sustainable yield beech scheme may proceed with tenders to be invited by the Crown as soon as possible."

West Coast leaders say that provision in the Accord has never been invoked, nor was it necessary to do so, until recently.

Perhaps the best analysis of the historical backgound to the West Coast Accord comes from former Minister of the Environment Simon Upton's environment website. Mr Upton writes:-

"Around 5 million hectares of New Zealand's 6 million hectares of native forests enjoy permanent protection under the management of DOC. Of the remaining natural forest nearly all is protected from unsustainable harvesting and loss of natural values, either by law or by various contracts."

"To achieve this unprecedented level of protection, successive governments have had to negotiate with those who have depended for their livelihood on the harvesting of natural forests and those with conservation interests."

"This was especially true in the case of the West Coast forests of the South Island where the Crown ( in this case the Labour Government) negotiated the 1986 West Coast Accord with conservation groups, councils, saw-millers, and timber workers."

"The Accord was a negotiated compromise that achieved the conservation of large tracts of natural forest on the West Coast. In return the deal provided a phased transition to sustainable management of those forest set aside for native timber production. This was to allow sufficient time for the local community and industry to change to plantation timber processing."

"In signing up to the Accord, Labour and the conservation groups agreed that logging would continue. The sort of logging people had in mind at the time was so-called "beech management" which involved clearing up to 20 hectares at a time - a bit like calling cyclone Bola a forest management tool."

"Fourteen years on, the managment scheme proposed is single log extraction using helicopters - several orders of magnitude less destructive."

" "Now I understand that some people believe there should be no commercial use of native forests at all - and didn't support the Accord when it was signed. I respect those people. But it is a morally indefensible position for those who did put their singature on the Accord. The Labour party's integrity is impaled on it."

"Its willingness simply to discard its earlier committments has left the people of the West Coast feeling betrayed and angry."

"The repercussions are wider. Protecting the environment outside of national parks relies on the maintenance of trust and goodwill between landowners, communities and Government. Labour's actions have dealt a massive blow to that trust. One thing's for sure; there won't be anyone lining up to sign any more environmental accords."

Mr Upton is right. If farmers, landowners and anyone else who is watching sees that a Government, seemingly hellbent on nothing more than ideology, can change the written rules on them, they are likely to say "get stuffed" to things like protecting significant natural areas on their properties. Consequently, the thing that we are all trying to protect - the environment - will suffer further.

Unless, of course, Labour plans to appoint a couple of thousand enviro-police to enforce the rules. That would reduce any environmental protection programmes to an absurdity.

Labour does not have a party vote mandate on the West Coast either. It lost to National. Damien O'Connor was elected as a constituency Labour MP but he did not stand on the Labour list and had supported the indigneous sustainable logging.

Trust and goodwill is what is needed and commonsense must prevail - but commonsense is not so common at the moment - on all sides.


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