Researcher refutes Minister's claims on beech
Researcher refutes Minister's claims of self-interest in beech scheme debate
December 29 1999
A senior lecturer at the New Zealand School of Forestry at the University of Canterbury today refuted statements in the House by Hon. Pete Hodgson, Minister of Forestry, that he was motivated by self-interest in the debate on the beech scheme.
During an urgent debate in Parliament on December 22nd 1999, the Minister stated that scientists supporting the beech scheme were mostly being paid by Timberlands West Coast Ltd. (TWC), implying that they were motivated by self-interest. Dr Mason has been on television, radio and has been quoted in newspapers saying that the TWC proposal to sustainably log a small area of our beech forests was not being given a fair hearing, and that in his opinion the scheme was sustainable management. He is not receiving any remuneration from TWC.
"Implying that supporters of the scheme are motivated by self-interest does not address our arguments. The Minister is really just trying to shoot the messenger. He should listen to what we are saying and take note, because we are motivated by a desire for people to live on the planet sustainably", he said.
"It was particularly ironic that the Minister should have made such a claim when the rest of his statement in the house relied so heavily on research work that I have criticised", said Dr Mason. "Not only that, but the work he relied on was actually commissioned by an environmental group opposed to the beech scheme, and so if he wished to engage in criticism of scientists' motivations he could have more fairly directed it at the author of work supporting his own position".
The work in question was a model of beech forest developed by Dr Murray Efford, of Landcare, a Crown Research Institute. Dr Mason, a forester and expert modeller, has pointed out that the model, while mathematically fine, is implemented in a software program that encourages users to make false assumptions. When the logging option is chosen, the starting values of the model are set with unrealistic values. "The model software appears to imply that no new trees would grow in a gap created by removal of a tree, while the same gap created by a natural tree death would support young trees", Dr Mason said. The software also contains an assumption that none of the harvested trees would have otherwise died, when it was the stated aim of authors of the scheme to identify and harvest a proportion of the trees that were dying naturally.
Dr Mason is well positioned to judge the model. He is the author a several growth models, many modelling-related, peer-reviewed papers, and his expertise has been sought through contracts by researchers in the United Kingdom, the United States, and in Chile.
"My concern is for sustainable development and for scientific integrity", he stated. "I stand to gain nothing personally from the TWC proposal, and Timberlands is not paying me anything." He was once paid for one and half day's work relating to TWC's pine plantations, but has had no further financial dealings with company and nor did he intend to in future. "Contract negotiations did not go well", he stated, "so I did not wish to pursue further work with them."
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