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Minister's speech - West Coast indigenous forests

Hon Sandra Lee
30 May 2001 Speech notes

Conservation Minister's speech--Govt announcement on the future for West Coast indigenous forests


Ladies and gentlemen.

Today is a very historic day and a very special one for me. Tai Poutini is my turangawaewae. My ancestors were from the West Coast. For many years I have lobbied for the protection of these magnificent ancient forests along with tens of thousands of other New Zealanders.

The decisions just announced by the Prime Minister to bring the Timberlands West Coast indigenous forests under conservation management will allow more effective conservation initiatives to take place and provide an opportunity to restore precious habitats for indigenous wildlife.

I would like to thank Dr Gerry McSweeney, Dr Les Molloy, Bruce Watson, Bruce Hamilton and Mike Harding. They made up the Independent Panel of experts who spent several months reviewing the most appropriate future management regime for the 130,000 hectares of land involved, in 29 forests. It was a major task which they carried out with distinction.

These lands are important remnants of New Zealand's once extensive lowland indigenous forest.
The publicly-owned Timberlands forests offer us the chance to protect forests of outstanding scenic and conservation value.

The forests are home to a number of rare and threatened indigenous species. These include the Okarito brown kiwi, the great spotted kiwi, kaka, kereru, kea, weka and land snails.

Much of the land currently managed by Timberlands West Coast borders or links areas already under conservation management. These forests buffer and often connect more extensive areas of lowland forest. As a result, their strategic importance for conservation is greater than might be suggested by their size and scattered distribution.

The former Timberlands forests also contain a large number of historic and archaeological sites from the pioneering era.

These forests will make a substantial addition to the recreation and tourism resources of the West Coast.

The Westland District Council has shown great community leadership at an early stage by proposing to promote the district's extensive natural features as eco tourism opportunities, leading to economic growth.

Last week's Budget set aside new funding of an additional million dollars for DOC to manage the 130,000 hectares of forest land it is now acquiring.

Key components include new amenity areas, wildlife management areas, ecological areas and scenic reserves, while 14 parcels of forest will be added to the Victoria Conservation Park.

I will be asking the New Zealand Conservation Authority to begin the process of providing advice on the addition of some areas of these forests to Kahurangi, Paparoa and Westland/Tai Poutini National Parks.

I will also be looking closely at the panel's recommendation for the establishment of a new Mariua/Waiau National Park embracing the Lewis Pass National Reserve, Mariua Valley beech forests and upper Waiau Valley.

Recommendations to establish a new Kawatiri Conservation Park and a new Mawhera Conservation Park will be investigated further. They seem to offer exciting opportunities to profile key natural attractions handy to Westport and Greymouth.

It is proposed that consultative committees be set up with West Coast community and interest groups to enable continuing dialogue between the Department of Conservation and West Coasters about the new conservation parks. I know this will be welcomed on the coast as an opportunity to shape future opportunities.

The change in the statute that will now apply to the land will not affect existing entitlements for commercial purposes which include mining sphagnum moss harvesting and grazing.

In closing, I would like to draw attention to just one of the fine forests being protected.

The southernmost of the forests being logged by Timberlands is the North Okarito forest.
It is arguably one of the greatest stands of lowland forest in the world.
Dense stands of rimu forest cloak a coastal terrace formed thousands of years ago by the Whataroa valley glacier.
Along its coastal margin lies the Okarito lagoon - a wetland of international significance and an important feeding ground for thousands of waders and other water birds.
Foremost amongst these is the kotuku or white heron which nests just to the north in the Waitangiroto Nature Reserve.

In 1975 when the Forest Service bulldozed a logging road into this vast expanse of forest, there was an immediate conservation outcry.
Over 600 people attended a conservation meeting in Christchurch seeking an end to the logging of this forest.
From that meeting sprung a re-energised conservation movement that has worked ever since to achieve the protection of the remaining publicly-owned lowland forests of New Zealand.

At the time, there was a sawmill at Whataroa and two at the nearby township of Harihari. Some local people saw the white heron- which became the symbol of the conservation campaign -as a threat to their way of life.
The mills at Whataroa and Harihari have long-since closed.
But the white heron colony has become a major tourist attraction with a local Whataroa family holding a concession to guide tourists to the colony.

This tourist operation and the colony itself is looked on with pride by the local people and rightly so.
South Okarito forest is part of the South West World Heritage Area, and the site of a major program to save the Okarito kiwi from extinction.
The Westland District Council is exploring ways of working with the Department of Conservation to enhance the biodiversity of the region to add to the world class tourist attractions.
The world has changed a lot since 1975.

I am delighted that the end of logging in the North Okarito forest is near. Okarito will be protected for all time in the South West World heritage Area.
This is a decision we can all celebrate.
It is one that will benefit the people of the West Coast.
It is a decision that is a landmark in world rainforest conservation.
I am honoured to have been part of it and to be able to share this moment with you all here today.


ENDS


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