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Email 4 : Kit's Persecution, The Backstory

I began this e-mail last night because I found it hard to sleep. I want to put Kit's persecution into a context for the record. Please excuse the length. Henrik is right. There is a book in this.


The West Coast has been characterised by management that exploited resources - largely to the benefit of other communities elsewhere. Forestry management under the Forest Service was no difference.

Government policies at the time meant that log prices were negotiated down to ridiculous levels. Employment and cheap houses were the goal. We got waste, inefficiency and the discounting of ecological values as their companions.

Stumpages for large old growth Rimu were less than $5/tonne during the late 1970s, and still less than $10 in the early 1980s, when I remember being told by Ian James that, should I meet a logging truck on the narrow roads of Wanganui State Forest, I should be the one to head over the bank because he could pull me out - but not vice versa.

Low values mean low cost systems of production in order to make a required profit, however small. High productivity is a corollary of that, which in turn has a corollary of discounting all ecosystem values and services except timber. You cannot afford sensitive (and expensive) machinery when prices are kept artificially low. We had the unique situation of low impact FMC skidders being trialed in the northern planted forests, while the joke was that old clapped out Forest Service skidders came to the West Coast Conservancy to die. You might as well have mentioned spaceships as helicopters.


The legacy of the Beech Scheme of the 1970s hung over the Forest Service, and the forestry profession. The government policies - especially those that emphasised low timber values and production over ecological values - meant that any beech scheme HAD to be have a low value and high volume approach to resource management.

That meant large scale, high impact, high production methods - and ecological harm. It also meant conversion of indigenous ecosystems to plantations. From an ecological perspective, it meant an indefensible unsustainability. The Forest Service pursued the government policies with their usual emphasis on getting something done while ignoring the public sentiments. It appeared arrogant and out of touch, and it was.

The legacy remains. Most people probably think the current Timberlands proposals were some repeat of the 1970s. They could not be farther from the truth.

Rather than change the emphasis of the forestry policies governing the Forest Service - to ones that emphasised high timber values and the protection of the ecosystem functions - the West Coast Forest Service was swept away with the reforms of the mid 80s. The precursor to Timberlands, and the Department of Conservation, was formed on April 1 1987.


In 1986 the West Coast was signed by the West Coast forestry industry, community representatives and environmental groups. It was a consensus document - undertaken by a process that is currently advocated by the Green Party and others. A National Park was set up as former Forest Service Areas were set aside for that purpose and other additions to the conservation estate. A transition arrangement with industry involved the continued overcutting of the Buller forests until 2006, to give them time to move toward sustainable sources of supply, and 100,000 odd hectares of beech was set aside specifically for the development of a sustainable beech management programme. It was hailed as a triumph of consensus and conservation.

Subsequently, in 1998, the end of the Buller overcut was brought forward until 2000.


A number of government policies were favourable to sustainable forestry, especially the expiring of the long term supply contracts, and the chance to negotiate market prices, some now over $500 per tonne landed at the mill, where 20 years ago it might have been less than $30.


Kit Richards has been involved in the development of a sustainable beech management proposal for 10 years. It has been an interesting journey. Timberlands began to use low impact helicopter logging and phasing out most ground based harvesting practicing - even in the Buller overcut. The podocarp/hardwood forests of Saltwater and Okarito were assigned for sustainable management.

Sensitive management requires - high prices, a knowledge of all the values of the ecosystem, some sort of monitoring and regulation of harvesting, and management systems that involve a HIGH VALUE, LOW VOLUME approach using such innovations as helicopters and GPS mapping. The process involved investment in ecological research, ecosystem protection and sensitive forestry management practice. It involved an ethical shift beyond traditional utilitarian perspectives on the forest, to one that emphasised the ecological functions and complexity of all facets of the ecosystems involved.

The process of developing sustainable forestry was underpinned by independent reviews from commissions set up by the Parliamentary Commissioners for the Environment, and the Ministry of Forestry. Timberlands made some mistakes, and learned. The outside reviewers emphasised various issues that they thought needed resolving, or more focus and attention. Progress was reviewed. The management paradigm of the company moved through utilitarian multiple use to the international cutting edge of forestry management - ecosystem-based management, where the health, complexity and functioning of the ecosystem is the prime objective, and management emphasises what remains rather than what is extracted. The expertise of Kit Richards and Timberlands really advanced beyond the thinking of most other foresters in the country, including some who were involved in the outside review. This is evidenced in the disputes over whether this sort of management paradigm could include any management to "improve" the yield or timber quality of the forests, such as thinning. Since this could be at odds with some ecological function, Kit thought not, and battled hard to maintain the integrity of the truly ecosystem-management approach.

A number of us on this list were involved in this philosophical development, which is why those who bothered to actually witness what Timberlands were doing became admirers, and unpopular converts. We are now called "Pro-loggers" by the preservationists and the media. They know the message it sends to the public - "logging" creates visions of clearfelling and a nuclear wasteland. Logging is to sustainable forestry management what butchery is to surgery. The preservationists know this and promote the use of such terms. They wanted the public to think what Timberlands proposed involved clearfelling, and the media sucked it up. Television news still perpetrates the myths with the images they choose to put across the screen.


One member of this e-mail group proposed a description of Timberland's intentions as a thought experiment.

Imagine you are walking through a beech forest observing the historical mortality and patterns that extend out over A landscape. The image you get is a dynamic system characterised by disturbance over space and time.

Past mortality occurs in different patterns, as does the regenerative functions of the forest. Trees grow and compete, some become stressed and succumb to some physical or biological agent and die. Some reach some dominance in the canopy and then grow old and die. The result is a continuing process - one environmental philosopher described it by using a whirlpool metaphor, only on a much slower temporal scale - as well as a diversity in forest structure. Another referred to nature as characterised by a discordant harmony, rather than the usual human perspective of stasis or some teleological progression to a climax. Associated with this discord and diversity are the diverse ecological niches requires to satisfy each of the trophic levels of fauna and flora.

Now imagine that you want to emulate nature by identifying the mortality, and felling half the natural mortality before it occurred. Half the mortality would be allowed to occur naturally. Of the trees felled, only the most valuable component is harvested, perhaps less than half. No chip material is worth removing when a helicopter costs $90/tonne. The gaps created are the same as natural gaps - the regeneration functions are substantially the same. The reproduction functions are advanced by the expenditure on introduced pest control which is the major factor limiting indigenous fauna reproduction.

The resultant gaps do not have the nice boundaries associated with small clearfell coupes. You cannot pick them easily from the air, or the ground. This is cutting edge sustainable forestry, which is exactly what the international commentators to Timberland's proposals have said. Some would say that they are ridiculously sensitive. Kit Richards would not.


The West Coast Accord is a major embarrassment to the more extreme preservation movements. They began a misinformation campaign in the mid 1990s against the Buller overcut, and the sustainable management initiatives that included the podocarp forests of the south and the beech proposals in the north.

They de-emphasize the Accord. They make outrageous statements. They spread misinformation. They show people the Buller overcut operations and claim that this is the beech management proposal. They expound loudly and continually the myth that it is a choice between use OR protection - that you cannot have both.

The Forest & Bird Society passes a remit saying that sustainable management is impossible - which means that they break another agreement - The NZ Forest Accord signed with elements of the forestry industry. No doubt - in the way of any mob - they begin to believe their own propaganda and lies. They build platforms, and expertly manage the media.

Other environmental movements are behind the management proposals. Some were signatories of the West Coast Accord and take an international perspective, and have advanced to a stage where they recognise that community can and must be accommodated if we want a sustainable future for humanity. The international environmental philosophies in ascendance overseas accommodate use and community, because they recognise that the issue is not use vs. no-use, but proper, sensitive use, that protects the environmental values of the forest.

Internationally, they cannot deny the fact that their own forests have hundreds of years of management, in association with communities, and that they are there still - even though the management proposed generally has poorer environmental standards than those proposed by Timberlands. The reality of sustainable management is too obvious for all to see. In New Zealand they can deny it, because we don't have the history, and so they do, even though the ecological parallels are plain to see.

The preservationists use the tactic of attacking the individual. Past allies who opposed the 1970s beech scheme are now branded traitors. Their names are put on websites. They are vilified.


Timberlands attempts to fight back against the misinformation. They have a policy of reacting to any statement made that represents an untruth. But they are naïve at PR, unlike the preservationists (the irony is that the preservationists convince the public that the manipulative ones were Timberlands, with themselves being the innocents).

The pressure on Timberlands is sustained and heavy. They continually have to react to claims that are effectively asking "when did you stop beating your wife?" Whatever they say in reply does not remove the taint of the accusation. Media images of clearfelling continue.

Sustainable management is referred to as "logging" (which they almost spit out - much like people used to spit out the word "Jew", or "Witch", or "Communist"). Recently a Minister of the Crown states the bumper sticker "We want the forests up not down". A lie, yet it is typical, and the image is enduring, at least in the public mind.

The preservationist tactics are the way of the mob - be it the lynch mob railing at the poor innocent black man, whose only crime is his colour - or, in this case, the "crime" that they manage forests. Those who defend them are smeared with the equivalent epithet used against the "Jew Lovers", or "Nigger Lovers", or perhaps they are Witches themselves.

Less come forward. Careers are at risk, contracts are at risk. Those that continue to risk coming forward are branded as having vested interests. My partner mentioned the other day that I put at risk ever getting any more contracts in my field of sustainable resource management, and my prospects of any more work with Timberlands were minimal whatever happens to them. Others who speak out are in the same boat.

The Labour Party gets involved. There are votes here - at least in Auckland, and the Blackball miners are a distant memory. Chardonnay is now the preferred brew.


Two damaging items are brought out. The first is a "book", touted as investigative journalism. It is an incredible exercise in propaganda and deceit. It omits any piece of information that provides balance to its claims.

It perpetrates untruths - that Timberlands set up CAN for instance - based on misunderstood shreds. It vilifies anyone associated with Timberlands. Its disclosure of PR funding can only be explained if all the ecological research is added to the actual PR budget. All supporters are either dupes, or cronies, or misguided wayward souls. It practices guilt by association tactics - linking Shandwicks, and therefore the Evil Corporate Timberlands, to Shell in Nigeria.

The word choice is worthy of Goebells. Timberlands has "moles" - all paid is the claim. The preservationists have "sources". All public servants are attacked who had anything to do with Timberlands. It is Manichaen in its thesis. You are either good or bad. It is a paranoid conspiracy document.

The Efford Model is more damaging because it has the weight of science behind it. The first version is a nonsense. No forest would regenerate under the assumptions used - though the public don't know this. In later versions it portrays a forest moving to a savannah, which any forester can recognise as a nonsense. It is not supported by any expert in forestry modeling, and is criticised by them continually and widely.

The Labour Party hangs its hat on the model as "proof" that what Timberlands propose is unsustainable. They continue to give credence to Secrets and Lies as well.


Many of us have had direct contact with Labour Party members well before the election to tell them our views. They know our credentials. We are largely ignored. The Forest & Bird agenda seems to have a very close connection with Labour policy making at the very highest level.

Still, people are hopeful, even after the election that the wild statements of an opposition party will be moderated by the pragmatism and realism that one expects from a Government. Some of us vote for them still. Some are Party members. Some of us even hope that we will get a government that will stop the excesses of the last 15 years - or 20 years if you include Muldoon's latter days.

Most of us do not expect Labour to stop the resource consent proceedings - we expect that they will look at the evidence and be suitably impressed to allow the beech proposals to continue. The resource consent and the existing contracts - many of which have been under negotiation since early in 1999 (another fact not pointed out by the witchhunters) - are their excuse.

They can the resource consent - and with that act goes any pretense that they are motivated by science and proof of unsustainability. They admit as much. It is "political" - pity about the West Coasters, and the forest.

The only alternative to a scientific rationale is a vote-catching rationale for the largely ecologically ignorant urban voter. It is a betrayal of the provinces, and of sustainable management. They have sided with preservationists who have no solution for a sustainable future - unless you sympathises with the idea that humans ought not to be included in any future.


Those who were working behind the scenes up until the election decide to go public after the resource consents are signed. We write to the media, showing them the scientific evidence. We bombard (I'm sorry - did I say that. I don't really mean "Bombard". I am just being metaphorical - perhaps Kit was as well) politicians with the evidence and the logic of the argument, and the illogic of the preservationists' stance.

The media starts to develop an interest. We start to make some points. The public start to respond, and letters to the editor start to flow in from questioning citizens with open minds. The preservationists respond, but without the science their arguments are weak, as their logic always is, and the public has a fine ear for decision making that is cynical vote-catching.

The Labour Government and the preservationists were starting to lose the battle and they knew it. It was time for them to pursue the most fruitful tactics of the past - character assassination. Nothing like a bit of witchhunting to bring the media to attention and distract the debate from the embarrassing issues.


A number of us were appalled at developments when the Government canned the resource consent hearing. We understand what Timberlands' intentions are. We start talking to each other on an open e-mail list. We don't moderate what is said or who is on it. It is entirely open. This is in direct contrast to the more authoritarian processes within political parties, industry lobby groups or the preservation bodies.

I would venture to say that this is a feature of debate amongst people who come from scientific background. The contrast with the preservationists - who are quasi-religious organisations by comparison - is marked. As an example the Institute of Forestry journal has an open forum for commentaries and letters. Preservationists and other more moderate conservationists have been invited to submit material, and have.

Try getting an alternative view to the Forest & Bird hierarchy in their journal and see where you get. Some have tried. This does not stop the Prime Minister calling the list a Lobby group, a "Pro-Logging" group, with inferences of some sort of secret campaign even to the extent of Timberlands funding or Shandwicks involvement.

The PM has a gloat on television that is worthy of Eichmann. It is chilling. They dishonourably use our openness to their own advantage, and infer a secret society which they have "cracked". Yet there are secrets among and between F&B and the Labour party, and it would be nice if they would show us all their e-mail correspondence.

Many of us are deeply motivated by our ideas on sustainability. The list grows. Kit appears twice as I recall, yet the Prime Minister claims that he is an instigator. Someone who has access to the list correspondence sifts through literally hundreds of e-mails looking for dirt. They would have found philosophical discussions on sustainable management, and a peer reviewing process for correspondence. They find one old e-mail from Kit written late at night on a Sunday before governments are formed and parliaments sit, where he uses the usual hyperbole associated with e-mails in reply to a general question. E-mails, as those who use them know, are like having a conversation on the page. For the PM to suggest that there were physical threats involved is ridiculous - any more than there is a threat by me saying I am "bombarding" you with this.

Kit has put his soul into sustainable forestry management and has seen his dream shattered by a politically motivated mob. He is the best resource the country has got in understanding the principles and practice of sustainable forestry management. I cannot think of another with his skills.

The Green Party, Forest & Bird and Labour (but not, curiously, the Alliance) produce press releases within one hour of each other. Then they claim that WE are the anti-government plot - and that we are politically motivated - that the collusion is OURS. The Government gets its say - the images stick in the public mind - the defenses are too boring for the media to respond with. We don't have press secretaries and access to the media on a whim. That we have got this far is entirely a result of our perseverance and commitment - to sustainable management NOT "LOGGING". Yet the PM condemns us for our own success.

Once again the people only hear one side of the story, and truth is the loser.


A number of people have asked not to be distributed material from this list. Too much is at stake for some. I had really hoped that the public contempt for government would start to turn around. I thought this election might do that. The alarming drop in public support - to 23 % as I recall, is as a result of the political shenanigans of the last 15 years - where cynical politics was ascendant over common decency. I don't believe that common decency is mutually exclusive from politics in this country. If it does become widely believed, especially by those that aspire to political power, then we are in big trouble.

Given the eco-fascist actions of the Forest & Bird Society, and Native Forest Action - and the unfortunate support from a historically moderate party such as Labour - who can claim that we are marching back toward public trust in politicians?

I condemn the Forest & Bird Society, the Greens and the Labour Party for their tactics. They appall me, as they ought to appall anyone who was privy to the facts.

It would be nice to discuss where we as a country ought to be going with our policies if were really interested in a sustainable future, but that will have to wait for another time.

Chris J K Perley
Chris Perley and Associates Forest and Natural Resource Consultants
PO Box 7116 Dunedin 9001 New Zealand

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