West Coast jobs: little to lose, much to gain
Any job losses on the West Coast as a result of ending Timberlands West Coast's rimu logging are likely to be balanced by growth in exotic forestry, says Minister Responsible for Timberlands Pete Hodgson.
"Exotic forestry on the Coast is entering a period of rapid growth that is expected to generate up to 90 new jobs over the next three years," Mr Hodgson said. "On top of that, significant employment gains can be expected from the $120 million West Coast economic development package.
"The prophets of doom need to grasp a few facts. Timberlands has a total of 29 positions in native forest logging. The only sawmill on the West Coast that mills rimu – the Westco Lagan mill at Ruatapu, near Hokitika – employs about 80 people.
"I would expect Timberlands to use its best efforts to find alternative work for those displaced from rimu logging. There is scope for that, as Timberlands' pine harvest is increasing by about 30,000 cubic metres a year, creating about 30 new jobs each year.
"The risk to jobs in sawmilling depends on how mill owners manage the transition from rimu to pine and other timbers. Westco Lagan has not put a clear figure on how many jobs it expects to lose from its Ruatapu mill, but has been reported estimating that about 50 jobs will be lost to the region in total.
"Even if Westco Lagan shed 40 jobs, which is a high estimate, and Timberlands shed two-thirds of its positions, the immediate loss to the Coast would only be about 60 jobs. That would be unfortunate and significant for a small community, but it is nowhere near the 'hundreds' of job losses being touted by the Government's more hysterical critics.
"Growth in exotic forestry jobs alone can be expected to absorb those 60 jobs over the two year transition period we have proposed. Add to that the gains from the West Coast package and the total employment impact on the Coast is likely to be strongly positive."
Mr Hodgson said the impact on the furniture industry of an end to rimu logging was difficult to estimate, but claims of 4000 job losses were grossly inflated.
"The effect on the furniture industry depends on how manufacturers handle the shift to alternative timbers," Mr Hodgson said. "Certainly ending rimu logging on Crown-managed land will put them under pressure. But the proposal to allow some of Timberlands' rimu logging to continue until 31 March 2002 would give manufacturers significant time to adjust.
"Furniture makers have had since December 1998 to prepare for the end of Timberlands' Buller 'overcut' logging, which will reduce the volume of rimu available nationally by about half. The decision to end the overcut earlier than the West Coast Accord provided for was made by the former National-led Government. Coincidentally their two-year transition period is about the same as this Government's.
"Alternative timber supplies for furniture making are expected to increase, especially supplies of sliver beech, which is a recognised furniture timber. Approved management plans and permits for logging native timber on private land provide for about 58,000 cubic metres of timber a year – mostly beech. Only about 5000 cubic metres a year of that is presently being cut. Approvals for new plans and permits are proceeding at a steady pace.
"Rimu is not the only or necessarily the best furniture timber. Using alternatives offers the furniture industry an opportunity as well as a challenge. I'm confident furniture makers can rise to the challenge in the transition period provided, and job losses in the industry need not occur."