The illegal dumping of rubbish has long been a problem in Te Hiku (formerly Aupouri) Forest, but now a new, much greater danger has emerged.
Summit Forests' forest and harvest manager Bob Shirley said at least a dozen camp fire sites had been found between the 90 Mile Beach sand dunes and the forest proper over the last month.
There was no doubt that those responsible had been camping, the main suspects being Te Araroa Trail walkers rather than locals.
"Locals tend to have their fires on the beach," Mr Shirley said.
The entire Aupouri Peninsula is governed by a year-round fire restriction (which extends north from the northern side of Herekino Harbour and Taipa, including Kaitaia and Awanui), while a temporary restriction is in place over the remainder of the Far North District. Fires, and camping, are permanently prohibited on 90 Mile Beach (with the exception of camp grounds at Hukatere and the Bluff).
Summit Forests encouraged appropriate recreational use of its estate, Mr Shirley added, but that use was necessarily strictly controlled.
"If you want to visit any of summit's forests, please ensure you get a permit first," he said.
"Permits are free from the Northland office (1533 Far North Rd, phone (09) 406-7026), or go to www.summitforests.co.nz.
"Many people use the forests for running, mountain bike riding, dog walking, horse riding, pig hunting and beach access. This system allows important information to be given out and helps keep our workers safe. Summit staff may ask to see any visitor's permit — carry it with you.
"If you do not have a permit you will be asked to leave, and if you are non-compliant the police will be involved.
"For your own health and safety, and that of forest workers, never enter an operations area without authorisation; follow all signage. Logging operations are currently under way at Te Raite Rd. Permit holders can use Kimberley Rd to access Te Oneroa a Tohe (90 Mile Beach)."
Those who were tempted to light fires also needed to be aware of the potential consequences. Summit Forests would seek recovery of the value of any crop that was destroyed, while Fire and Emergency NZ would seek recovery of fire-fighting costs, likely amounting to some thousands of dollars an hour if helicopters were involved.
Mr Shirley emphasised that a great deal was at stake.
"A significant fire here would not only destroy the forest, but would be devastating for Kaitaia, where so many industries are partially or totally reliant on this forest," he said.
"And even though we are getting a bit of rain at the moment, we are also getting a lot of wind.
"A wildfire would move very quickly through Te Hiku Forest, with significant effect on the environment and local businesses."
Meanwhile the illegal dumping of rubbish continued to be an ongoing problem in many areas. Another substantial quantity of rubbish had been removed from the forest at Hukatere before Christmas.
"Not a good look for the North," Mr Shirley said, adding that it had been referred to the police.