The blocking of access to a world-renowned trout-fishing river has created a worrying precedent, say anglers and tourism operators.
Forestry management company Timberlands has effectively closed access to the Rangitaiki River, southeast of Rotorua, saying the fire risk was too great in the surrounding Kaingaroa forest.
The company has adopted a policy that vehicle access was allowed only during weekends and when the fire risk was low.
With the fire risk raised to moderate, visitors would be shut out of the remote parts of the forest for at least three months.
Fish & Game regional manager Rob Pitkethley said the new policy was an over-reaction.
"In the last three years, the fire risk has remained at moderate or above for between 120 to 140 days. So under the current policy it's a summer closure. It would take 30ml of rain for the forest to re-open."
"Only two years ago this land was owned by the Crown. It is a concerning precedent, with regard to having to cross private land to get to public land."
Commercial anglers said their footprint was minimal. Unlike hunters, they used the forest only to access the river, which was public property.
Some have lost their livelihood since the forest was closed.
Fly fishing guide Peter Hill has been forced to seek new work after 10 years of hosting visitors from New Zealand, Japan, and the United States.
He said last month that anglers with permits were the least likely to hurt the forest. "No dogs, no firearms. Nobody minded getting permits, but suddenly they pulled the pin."
Walking access was still allowed in the area, but spots where tourists flocked to catch 10kg trout were deep in the forest and only reachable by road.
Motel operators were also suffering, as they depended on anglers. Since the forest was closed to the public on October 28, summer tours had cancelled their visits and headed to South Island rivers.
The forestry land was passed from Crown ownership to iwi under a Treaty settlement two years ago.
The management company has increasingly restricted access, against the wishes of local iwi, some of whom have been issued trespass notices while collecting firewood and kai.
United Future leader Peter Dunne called a meeting for concerned parties in Rotorua on Monday night.
Mr Dunne said Timberlands' stance was contrary to a proud New Zealand tradition of free access for hunting and fishing in forests and rivers. He said it should be possible to maintain fire management while allowing public access.
Timberlands forest risk manager Colin Maunder said the company was now harvesting three times as much from the Kaingaroa, and the risks to public and workplace safety were greater.
The company was also concerned about a number of incidents in the forest, including arson and vandalism, in the past year.