Harvesting of native timber a 'massive victory'

By Lee Scanlon

Conservation Minister Nick Smith. Photo / APN
Conservation Minister Nick Smith. Photo / APN

The Government's decision to allow harvesting of native timber felled by Cyclone Ita on West Coast conservation land is a "massive victory", says a West Coast forester.

Cyclone Ita slammed the West Coast on April 17, causing the worst windfall damage in generations. It felled an estimated 20,000 hectares of forest and significantly damaged a further 200,000 hectares.

Jon Dronfield, production manager for New Zealand Sustainable Forest Products (NZSFP), said today's announcement by Conservation Minister Nick Smith was win-win for the timber industry and for conservation.

"It will allow our business to strengthen hugely, and expand."

The cash-strapped Department of Conservation (DOC) would benefit from the financial return, Mr Dronfield said.

However, he warned that gaining access to the windblown timber would not result in a "mega gold rush".

"The market won't suck it up. We've lost all our furniture makers - it's all gone."

Also, most sawmills were now geared up for exotics, not natives, he said.

"No one's going to go out there and pick up 100,000 cubes of logs. In the last two years there's only been 2000 cubes cut in the whole country of rimu, and we've done over half of that."

NZSFP employs about 18 at Reefton and is New Zealand's biggest rimu miller.

Mr Dronfield said the company had been sourcing privately owned timber for the past 12 years. It had been negotiating unsuccessfully for two years with DOC, which controls 80 percent of the West Coast's land area, for access to wind-blown timber.

West Coast community leaders were also delighted by Dr Smith's announcement.

"It's a real practical step. It's going to make a difference for the West Coast and specifically the Reefton sawmill," Buller Mayor Garry Howard said.

"It's going to add employment and it will establish rimu and native logging, rather than importing the hardwoods."

Announcing the Government's decision, Dr Smith said it was time for a pragmatic approach.

"This initiative will provide welcome jobs and economic opportunities for the West Coast at a difficult time, and will provide a financial return to DOC that can be reinvested in conservation work," Dr Smith said.

"It is a tragedy that so much forest has been wrecked by Cyclone Ita but no good purpose is served by leaving it all to rot.

"The wood will displace some of the $65 million of tropical hardwoods we import each year and give New Zealanders access to our own beautiful native timbers."

Parliament would next week pass special legislation, under urgency, to allow the timber recovery, Dr Smith said.

Any delay would mean the large volumes of beech timber would soon deteriorate from sap stain and borer.

The West Coast Windblown Timber (Conservation Lands) Bill would confine the recovery of useable wood to areas affected by Cyclone Ita. It would exclude World Heritage Areas, national parks, ecological areas and the white heron sanctuary reserve at Whataroa.

Dr Smith said it was estimated Cyclone Ita had felled several million cubic metres of beech, rimu, matai, totara and miro trees.

Stumpage prices were $250 per cubic metre for rimu and $60 per cubic metre for beech.

It was impossible to estimate the volume and value of timber to be extracted. The safety and environmental constraints might require high-cost options like using helicopters.

- Westport News

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