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Okarito Declaration Launched

Conservationists today issued the "Okarito Declaration" as a long-term commitment to the practical protection of indigenous forests previously controlled by state logging company, Timberlands West Coast Ltd. The Okarito Declaration is a response to Government's decision to make major additions to Westland/Tai Poutini and Paparoa National Parks and Victoria Conservation Park, create a series of new reserves, add 900 ha to Kahurangi National Park and protect the balance of the Timberlands' forests as conservation land.

"All of the former Timberlands' forests are, or soon will be, legally protected. The Okarito Declaration is Forest and Bird's promise to continue to advocate for their practical protection. This involves effective pest control and thoughtful management of nature tourism, " Forest and Bird president, Dr Gerry McSweeney said.

"With logging stopped, the West Coast can seek an international reputation as a centre of excellence for nature conservation and nature tourism, as Costa Rica has done.

"The new conservation lands include world class cave and karst systems and lowland rainforests. Their world heritage values need to be maintained through well funded control of possums, deer, stoats, ferrets and other pests.

"Sound management of tourism on these new conservation lands poses big challenges," Dr McSweeney said.

"National park status inevitably draws more visitors, increasing the people, vehicle, and noise pressure. Paparoa National Park was only established in 1987. Its visitor centre at Punakaiki is now one of the four most popular visitor centres DoC operates, receiving 180,000 visitors annually.

"Conservation organisations, DoC, local councils, and the public must work together to prevent the new parks and reserves from being spoilt by over-commercialisation, poorly planned tourism developments and excessive vehicle and aircraft noise," he said.

"If done well, nature guiding and interpretation can help people better understand and appreciate the West Coast's many natural wonders and provide West Coasters with long term jobs.

"Out of control tourism would ruin the opportunities these magnificent beech and rimu forests, coastal lagoons, wetlands, and streams provide to enjoy solitude, peace, and the chance to contemplate nature's miracles," Dr McSweeney said.

ends The Okarito Declaration

The Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society recognises that the West Coast has many of New Zealand's best remaining lowland forests and natural wetlands, including many of the last wetlands fringed with natural forest (such as the Okarito and Saltwater Lagoons). Through the Okarito Declaration Forest and Bird commits to seeking continued protection for these magnificent wetlands, home of inanga/whitebait and feeding ground of the kotuku, and their forest catchments.

Forest and Bird will:

* Advocate for effective ground and aerial control of pest species such as deer, possums, goats, stoats, ferrets and feral cats to safeguard the habitat values of the new conservation lands. * * Work with the Department of Conservation and local authorities to improve public understanding and appreciation of the natural heritage values of the West Coast. * * Advocate for the protection of the natural soundscapes of the new conservation lands. Safeguarding natural quiet is as important as protecting natural landscapes. The sounds of nature- birdsong, the wind in the trees, water bubbling over stones- are vulnerable to noise pollution from aircraft and motorised vehicles. * * Encourage West Coast councils to use the Resource Management Act to ensure that new tourism development is well designed, appropriately sited, recognises the high landscape values of protected lands, and promotes sound waste management including the "reduce, recycle, re-use" message. * * Encourage local councils to provide basic tourism infrastructure and services such as adequate toilets and dump stations for camper vans to safeguard water quality and amenity values and prevent pollution of waterways. * * Advocate for an overhaul of the Department of Conservation's concessions management system so that it better recognises and applies the department's statutory responsibilities to preserve and protect natural values and better controls tourism development. * * Continue to celebrate the natural heritage of the South Island's West Coast as deserving national and international recognition. The West Coast includes some of the most extensive remaining natural wetlands and lowland forests in New Zealand, internationally important cave and karst systems and provides habitat for some of our most endangered species such as the Okarito brown kiwi.

Background

Okarito Lagoon is New Zealand's largest unmodified coastal wetland and largest forested wetland. At least 63 bird species can be found in its vicinity including the threatened Okarito brown kiwi. The lagoon is a feeding area for the kotuku/white heron. It is close to the Waitangiroto River, the only New Zealand known breeding area of the kotuku.

Okarito has been a conservation icon for more than 25 years as people have campaigned to protect the magnificent rain forests around the lagoon from logging.

The addition of the magnificent terrace rimu forests of North Okarito and Saltwater, formerly controlled by Timberlands West Coast, to Westland/Tai Poutini National Park recognises their heritage values for all New Zealanders. It is the culmination of a 25 year campaign by the conservation movement and the public to protect the Okarito forests.

In 1976 there was a huge public reaction when the former Forest Service announced that it proposed to log the forests around Okarito Lagoon for miro and rimu to supply the Paynter Sawmill in Whataroa. Legal action by Forest and Bird, submissions, deputations to Ministers, and public meetings attended by hundreds of people sought to stop the logging.

In election year in 1981, after the discovery of the threatened Okarito brown kiwi and thousands of public submissions opposing the Forest Service's logging plans, Government reversed its earlier decision to allow the logging of South Okarito and Waikukupa forests. It decided instead to add them Westland National Park. Legal action by Federated Futures delayed their inclusion.

Conservationists have continued to oppose logging of the forests around the lagoon including Timberlands "sustainable logging". Government's decision in 2002 completes the campaign to protect these areas.

North Okarito forest (5,613 ha) and part of Saltwater Forest (3,928 ha) are to be added to Westland/Tai Poutini National Park. Around 3,000 ha of existing conservation land which forms a narrow strip around North Okarito forest and fronts the Okarito lagoon is also proposed for National Park addition in the near future.

Okarito Forest covers an extensive lowland terrace with weathered glacial outwash gravel to the east of Okarito Lagoon, close to Whataroa. In most places it supports dense podocarp forest dominated by rimu with some miro and silver pine and scattered Hall's totara and kahikatea. Okarito Forest is an "outstanding " wildlife habitat with good numbers of common birds and threatened species such as kereru and kaka. It supported the highest number of forest birds of all forests surveyed in 1980 between the Waitaha River in the north and Big Bay in the south. Its protection will allow an expansion of the range for the threatened rowi/Okarito brown kiwi. It is a potential mainland habitat island.

As an extensive area of podocarp forest, Okarito Forest is also likely to provide an important seasonal food resource for species from mountainlands. It is close to the only known breeding area of kotuku (white heron) in New Zealand. Threatened fish such as banded kokopu and koaro have been found in streams in the forest.

Saltwater Forest covers moraines and broad outwash terraces between the Poerua and Whataroa River, west of Hari Hari. Saltwater Forest is almost completely surrounded by conservation land. It contains dense podocarp forest dominated by rimu, with some miro and silver pine. It has been affected by logging but good regeneration is occurring. Saltwater Forest is regarded as "outstanding" habitat for forest birds. Kaka, kakariki, South Island robin, New Zealand falcon, kereru/wood pigeon and fernbird have all been recorded.

Ends

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