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The West Coast, and forests

The West Coast, and forests

Press Release from Brian Swale, 2 November 2000.

I can’t believe that the West Coast issue has surfaced again. Surely such a sorry chapter must be dead and buried, after the shame of this government being unable to deal with it logically, fairly and honestly, and the shame of being a New Zealander and seeing such regressive and reprehensible legislation as the Forests (West Coast Accord) Bill passed as one of our laws. But no, in the last two weeks there have been three major feature articles printed, dealing with this thorny issue.

Terry Dunleavy in a feature article (NZ Herald, 19 October) castigated government for failing to appreciate or understand sustainable management, especially of the State’s West Coast beech and rimu forests and drew a knee-jerk response from the Minister of Forests. Terry’s points were exactly in the right direction, but the Minister sprayed his answering shots so widely it was difficult to see what points he was making or evading.

In pointing out that “preservation” as a strategy for our indigenous forests will not work, and that government has repeatedly duped voters into believing that it will, Terry has the measure of what took place before the last election, and the regressive direction of Government policy for native forests. Examples around the world now show that sustainable management is, instead, part of a much better answer than mere preservation can ever be.

Environmental management must go further than that. There must be a place for people, but the outmoded preservation model espoused by the Greens, present government and the Department of Conservation would exclude people from being part of the ecology.

Timberlands plans showed how people could be a beneficial part of the ecology, to the gain of the biota and the people of the region, the nation and the world. The evidential papers for the aborted RMA hearing commenced in November 1999, available on NZ internet sites, reveal how.

It is very clear that the biota would be better conserved under the Timberlands sustainable management than under DoC preservation, and that the people of the region would be much better off with perpetually sustainable beech and rimu industry than with a one-off grant of $120 million.

On this general topic, Jim Hopkins in The Press (30 October) compared the West Coast Accord with the Treaty of Waitangi, both promises made by the Crown, and asked why, if one should be torn up, why not the other? As he wrote, “Perhaps we shouldn’t ask. It’s the sort of question that assumes politicians are able to be trustworthy, consistent, and intellectually honest. And that’s an intolerable burden to place on the poor dears, as any right-minded person would agree.” Through their strategy to exclude people from the benefits of sustainable forestry, Government also relieved industry of at least $5 million invested on the Coast. This from a government supposedly encouraging industry.

In this vein, Allan Sayer of Lumber Specialties wrote recently to the Editor of The Press,

“While this Government has continued to state via the media that the $120 million West Coast package was compensation for the loss of indigenous logging, the timber industry has not and will not receive one cent in compensation.

This is continually inferred and we are questioned on how much we received, to the point where personally I am sick of the whole matter.

The Government and the Greens have got what they wanted and the public will pay ultimately and substantially.

For the producers and processors, most of whom have spent millions on upgrading for sustainable forest management - in our case $3.5 million in the past five years - we get nothing.

Democracy or dictatorship?”

In 1987, when DoC arose from the ashes of the Forest Service, government segregated state-owned forests for management on the basis of either consumptive use or non- consumptive use, and in the latter, has sought to progressively exclude human activity. While this policy is endorsed by Forest and Bird, the Greens and Labour, internationally this old model is showing up as being but a poor and illogical stepping-stone to a rational and balanced management model involving humans as part of the ecology. As we confront the ever more important need for sustainability in all things, the need for this involvement is increasingly evident.

Asked what the International Union for the Conservation of Nature would favour, my guess is that most New Zealanders would plump for “preservation”. They couldn’t be more wrong.

The IUCN, with 850 conservation member organisations, resolved at an October 2000 meeting in Amman, Jordan, (NZ was there) that consumptive and non-consumptive use of wild living resources through sustainable management can be compatible with the conservation of biodiversity, meeting the social, economic and cultural needs of people. Adaptive management processes enabled through constant monitoring will yield improved management, given a climate of good governance, and are favoured to ensure the success of management processes. The IUCN has established the Sustainable Use Initiative which incorporates regionally-structured Specialist Groups of the Species Survival Commission, and they have been given the tasks to identify, evaluate, and promote the principles of management that contribute to sustainability and enhanced efficiency in the use of wild living resources; and regularly communicate their findings to members and the broader community.

Clearly, the naive perception so widespread in New Zealand, that “use of forest equals destruction of forest and biota”, is understood internationally to be invalid now that good, truly sustainable management techniques are known and available.

Under the 1994 Montreal Process protocol which New Zealand signed, all our forests are required to be managed sustainably. In a 1990’s inspection of our plantations, they said "Well managed, very well done, good from a computer,"; sustainable indigenous forest management and said "Excellent - no problem."; and our Conservation Estate, and said "Not a hope". "You've got problems! ".

The Minister once again endeavoured to pull the wool over our eyes by claiming that the Timberlands estate was a very important part of national pristine native forest. In fact, the Timberlands indigenous forests are but 7% of the Coasts’ native forest, a mere 1.5% of the national indigenous forest area, and half were logged already under old regimes. He failed to acknowledge that actively managed, the biota would be improved - benefiting also the impoverished surrounding Conservation Estate.

His implicit argument that removing those forests from sustainable management is somehow saving them from destruction illustrates that he has still not grasped the essential ethics and goodness behind conservation-friendly sustainable forest management, and still believes that the preservation “lock-up” model will maintain biodiversity.

In claiming that the Timberlands timber yield was a disincentive to the production of private sustainable wood, the Minister is being disingenuous. The Timberlands yield would have been the core supply to industry, enabling private forest managers to benefit by climbing on the bandwagon. Neither together would be enough to meet much of our our current annual timber products import bill of $800 to $1,000 million, much from non-sustainable sources; but they would help. Another strategy is needed there.

Not only is the Forests (West Coast Accord) Act thoroughly bad and inequitable law, but the illogical ideas on which it is based promote ineffective conservation ethics. Additionally, this government has not developed the good and rational forest policy New Zealand as a nation increasingly needs.

Brian Swale is a forestry professional who supports the practice of environmentally sound sustainable forest management. He can be contacted at http://www.caverock.net.nz/~bj/beech/ and 03-326-7447

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