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Impending Government Decision On West Coast Rimu

NEW ZEALAND SCHOOL OF FORESTRY PRESS RELEASE

Impending Government Decision On West Coast Rimu Forest Management

Associate Professor David Norton, an internationally recognised conservation biologist from the University of Canterbury’s School of Forestry, says that the Government can make a genuine commitment to sustainable resource management when deciding the future management of Crown owned West Coast rimu production forests. Government is poised in the next few weeks to decide whether existing rimu supply contracts will be allowed to run their full term or be terminated.

Prof Norton says that we should clearly distinguish the unsustainable overcutting of rimu forests in the Buller, including Orikaka forest, from the sustainable management of Okarito and Saltwater forests in south Westland. The overcutting of Orikaka forest is totally unacceptable with no ecological justification and should be stopped immediately he says.

The sustainable management of south Westland rimu forests at Okarito and Saltwater is, however, quite different. Okarito and Saltwater forests were gazetted for sustainable management in 1984 prior to the West Coast forest accord and cover an area of only 9500 ha. Both forests had been extensively affected by previous unsustainable logging. Prof. Norton is in a unique position to comment on the management of these forests having independently audited the ecological consequences of the forest management practices carried out by Timberlands between 1993 and 1998.

While any management of a forest has some impacts, Prof. Norton could find no evidence to suggest that current sustainable management in Okarito and Saltwater was having any significant impacts on indigenous biodiversity within these forests. Single trees were harvested using helicopters, with harvested trees being spread across a range of tree sizes rather than just being the largest trees. Selection of trees for harvest aimed to remove only already dying trees, but, with no more than 50% of trees expected to die actually being harvested. No silvicultural treatments such as improvement felling or thinning were used in forest management. Prof. Norton did, however, identify some areas in which Timberlands could enhance its forest management practices and understands that the company is planning to implement these changes in its future management.

Prof. Norton said that forest management being implemented in Okarito and Saltwater is one of only a few examples of ecologically-based sustainable management of old growth temperate rainforests world-wide. He said that no forest management is perfect, and the key to successfully integrating forest management for both timber production and biodiversity conservation is to take an adaptive management approach where management is being informed by research results and where research is based on actual management. Given the extensive information already available for these forests, their ongoing sustainable management has the potential to provide valuable information for the sustainable management of native forests elsewhere in New Zealand and internationally. Stopping the south Westland sustainable rimu management would hamper promotion of sustainable harvesting as a replacement for destruction of tropical rain forests for instance.

Prof. Norton challenges the Government to show its commitment to environmental sustainability in two ways. Firstly, it should immediately stop unsustainable Buller over-cut. Secondly, it should commit itself to on-going sustainable management of Okarito and Saltwater forests with adequate safeguards in place including independent audits, perhaps by the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment’s office.

ENDS

Associate Professor David Norton can be contacted by phone at 03-364-2116 or by email at d.norton@fore.canterbury.ac.nz

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