Loss of wages and work for fire-affected Nelson-Tasman forestry workers and sawmillers is expected to be over quickly but the dollar cost to plantation forest may not be evident for 15 years or more.

Forestry Minister Shane Jones said he had been advised the cost of lost production and earnings was estimated to be $2 million a day while a total fire and equipment use ban in the Nelson area prevents forestry crews working outside the fire perimeter, affecting logging, silviculture, sawmills, wood processors and log exports.

Up to 30 forestry crews comprising up to 240 workers had been stood down with the cost per crew estimated at about $10,000 a day in wages and overheads.

The tinder dry Nelson-Tasman area is a significant contributor to New Zealand forestry and home to many of the country's highest value-adding sawmills and processors.


Jones was advised two sawmills had been shutdown - one in Eves Valley because it was in the line of fire, the other because it didn't have enough logs - and others had sufficient logs to operate until the rest of the week.

However sawmills would already be arranging to source logs from other areas and any closures would be short-term, said New Zealand Timber Industry Federation executive officer Jeff Ilott.

"There are probably 10 sawmills operating in the Nelson-Tasman area, some of them large and employing 200 people down to small operations with 10 or less people. It will only be short-term while forestry gangs that were working in that area are relocated."

Forestry industry veteran Murray Sturgeon is managing director of Nelson Pine Industries, the world's biggest single site producer of medium density fibreboard, its sister company 35,000 hectare forest owner Tasman Pine Forest and chairman of both.

He flew over the 2500ha fire zone this week and said while it was obvious some forests had been "completely erased" and others damaged, until the state of emergency was lifted it would be very difficult to evaluate the extent of the damage to trees and the age classification of burnt trees.

Forestry covers about 170,000ha of the Nelson-Marlborough region. Nelson Pine processes 40 per cent of the region's annual tree harvest - about 170 truckloads a day - specialising in exports of medium density fibreboard and laminated veneer lumber. It directly employs 230 people and contracts about eight forestry crews.

Sturgeon said because forestry was a long-term business with trees harvested at 25 to 30 years, the financial impact, aside from immediate salvage and clean-up costs, would not be felt until the land was cleared and replanted and tree age gap hole showed itself in the supply chain.

He said there was about 6000 cu m of logs on forestry landing or skid sites in the district waiting to be loaded and moved out.