Talks today on 'threat' to iconic trees and pristine lake

By Juliet Rowan

A public meeting will be held today in Rotorua to discuss logging that opponents say is destroying iconic 90-year-old trees and may ruin the pristine waters of Tikitapu, the Blue Lake.

National Party candidate Todd McClay has called the meeting in response to concerns about the razing of decades-old Douglas firs beside the lake's walking track.

The meeting also follows warnings by a water-quality expert that felling the trees is likely to harm the sensitive lake.

The Government has begun investigating whether the logging breaches a protective covenant on the forest.

Forestry management company Timberlands began cutting down the trees after resource consent was issued by the Rotorua District Council, and in the past few days locals have reported seeing logs helicoptered out of the area.

Mr McClay said the Douglas firs, though not native, had "iconic status" for Rotorua in terms of their scenic value for locals and economic value for tourism.

"These are 90-year-old trees," he said yesterday. "It's going to take 90 years for these trees to get back to what they are now."

Mr McClay wants the Government to step in and buy the cutting rights from Timberlands to save the trees.

But Conservation Minister Steve Chadwick, who is also Rotorua MP, said his stance was ironic given that National usually opposed Government intervention in business.

"It's not for the public to tell a private company how to forest-farm an asset," she said.

Ms Chadwick said a lot of emotion and misinformation was circulating about the logging, despite it being selective rather than wholesale logging, and being done on condition the area would be replanted.

However, she said the Government was investigating whether the felling breached a covenant put in place under the Crown Forests Act 1989.

The covenant is designed to protect the scenic, environmental and recreational amenities of the area.

The land being logged is part of the Whakarewarewa Forest and therefore also subject to the $400 million Treelord Treaty deal being negotiated with central North Island iwi.

Ms Chadwick and Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations Minister Michael Cullen are due to meet Rotorua Mayor Kevin Winters tomorrow but Ms Chadwick would not reveal the issues to be discussed, instead referring questions to Mr Winters, who could not be contacted.

The logging is also raising concerns about damage to Lake Tikitapu, one of the few Rotorua lakes still in relatively pristine condition.

Environment Bay of Plenty's consultant on lakes management, David Hamilton, said deeper waters were suffering oxygen depletion and the lake ecosystem was highly sensitive.

The Waikato University professor said logging could exacerbate the decline if not carried out carefully and he called on Timberlands to be more transparent about the scale and duration of its logging plan.

Today's public meeting is to be held at 2pm in the carpark between Tikitapu and Rotokakahi, the Green Lake.

- NZ Herald

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