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Conservation Assessment of Timberlands

Hon Sandra Lee
Minister of Conservation

News release

4 February 2000

Conservation assessment of Timberlands native forests

Sandra Lee, Minister of Conservation, and Pete Hodgson, Minister Responsible for Timberlands West Coast, today released a Department of Conservation assessment of Timberlands' native forests that ranks more than 90% as being of high or medium conservation value.

Areas ranked as high value include Timberlands' Orikaka forest, presently being logged for rimu in what the company concedes is an unsustainable manner.

Also assessed as high value are the Okarito and Saltwater forests, where Timberlands carries out rimu logging it considers sustainable.

Timberlands' beech forests, including those in the Maruia Valley where trial beech logging began, are mostly assessed as high value.

The assessment of the forests, by an expert team of Department of Conservation staff and consultants, was prepared in mid-1997 for the Office of Treaty Settlements. Timberlands at the time was being considered for inclusion in the Ngai Tahu settlement, although the possibility was not progressed at the time.

"We hope the release of this assessment will increase understanding of the Government's determination to save the parts of Timberlands' native forests that have significant conservation value," the ministers said.

"We are especially pleased to release this report in full given that the previous Government suppressed it as diligently as it could for two and a half years," said the ministers. "The descriptive information in the report was released only after an Ombudsman's ruling. The conservation value assessments were withheld and are today disclosed for the first time."

"The report lays out in some detail the physical and biological qualities of each forest block. It explains the significance of each block in relation to nearby areas of native forest, the rarity and quality of the forest type and the native fauna it contains. The conservation value of the forests is clearly and authoritatively explained."

"Clearly much of Timberlands' native forest is of National Park quality, and is equally deserving of protection."

The criteria for assessing the forest were those of the Forest Heritage Fund, now the Nature Heritage Fund. The Fund invests in the protection of native forest on private land. Areas of high or medium value are those meeting the fund's standard for purchase and protection.

The ministers noted remarks by the report's authors that the assessment of the forest should be regarded as preliminary, although its conclusions were considered robust.

"This is not a definitive assessment of the forests, but it is a very useful first draft. We doubt a review of the conclusions would produce substantial re-evaluations of the forests concerned."

Altogether 77,794 hectares of Timberlands' native forests are assessed as high conservation value and 43,035 hectares as medium conservation value. Timberlands' 1999 annual report says the company has 129,856 hectares of native forests. On that basis 60 per cent of the forests are assessed as high value and 33 per cent medium value.

The first of a number of public requests for the report under the Official Information Act was received on 31 October 1997. There is no enduring record of some requests, but officials report between 15 and 20 requests in total.

On 26 November 1997 all requests were answered with a refusal to release any part of the document. Following an Ombudsman's ruling the report was released on 19 June 1998 with descriptive information intact but all conservation value assessments deleted. Subsequent requests for the entire document were refused for the duration of the previous Government's term in office.

"The debate over native forest logging on the West Coast has been clouded throughout by secrecy and misinformation. We are pleased to be able to take this step towards a more open and better informed debate," said Ms Lee and Mr Hodgson.

Ends

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