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Windblown logging detrimental to forest ecosystems

Windblown logging detrimental to forest ecosystems

Plans to allow removal of windblown trees in West Coast forests will have a detrimental impact on forest health and remove a potential food source for native species including kiwi, says terrestrial ecology senior lecturer at the University of Auckland Margaret Stanley.

Plans to allow removal of windblown trees in West Coast forests will have a detrimental impact on forest health and remove a potential food source for native species including kiwi, says terrestrial ecology senior lecturer at the University of Auckland Margaret Stanley.

Conservation Minister Nick Smith is expected to introduce legislation into Parliament tomorrow to allow windblown logging on the West Coast after large areas of forest were damaged by Cyclone Ita in April this year. It is likely the Bill will be passed under Urgency.

Dr Stanley says while it may seem sensible to allow removal of dead trees, they are a vital part of the forest ecosystem. There is a rich biodiversity of species that live only on forest deadwood and decaying wood in turn acts as a “slow release” fertiliser - the main source of nutrients for new seedlings.

Many native species, from microbes and bacteria to fungi, lichens, reptiles, bats and birds rely on decaying wood on the forest floor.

“Kiwi and many other species eat insects that rely on decaying wood and vegetation so everything is interlinked in a forest ecosystem and removal of windblown trees will affect those linkages and inhibit forest growth,” she says.

Dr Stanley says there is also a significant knowledge gap about the biological importance of decaying wood to native species which in turn has implications for biodiversity.

“Less than half of New Zealand’s approximately 70,000 native species have been scientifically described so there is a question over whether we actually know what we might be losing if we continue to degrade native forest.”

Removing logs could further degrade forests by inadvertently damaging healthy trees as well as increasing the likelihood of disease and weed seeds being introduced by heavy equipment. Dead tree removal is also likely to target larger trees which contribute the most to biodiversity.

The Minister’s proposed law change will focus on the effects of Cyclone Ita but will set a precedent for removing dead wood on conservation land, Dr Stanley says.

While he has assured New Zealanders that no removal will take place within national parks, much of the area proposed for windblown logging is of high conservation value but has not been formally assessed for protection and so remains as ‘stewardship land’.

ENDS

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