The logging of native trees on Crown land on the West Coast officially ends on Sunday and the final parcel of forests goes into the conservation estate on Monday.

The Government announced last May a halt to the logging of native trees on Crown land and said 130,000ha of forests managed by Timberlands West Coast would go into the conservation estate on April 1.

Prime Minister Helen Clark said yesterday said that nearly 18,000ha of indigenous forest was being given national park status.

That was particularly significant and indicated "what a tragedy it would have been if logging had proceeded through there".

She said the forest transfer was the biggest addition to public conservation land since the Conservation Department was established in 1987.

Helen Clark paid tribute to dedicated conservationists who had campaigned for many years to have the forests protected.

Conservation Minister Sandra Lee said the 18,000ha being given national park status was going to the Kahurangi, Paparoa and Westland/Tai Poutini national parks.

The remaining 112,000ha was distributed across classifications of ecological area, scenic and scientific reserves, wildlife management, amenity and conservation area, and conservation park.

"Adding the most significant of these important lowland forests to existing national parks immediately gives them the status they deserve and contributes significantly to international rainforest conservation," she said.

The "jewel in the crown" was the preservation of the North Okarito Forest. About 9500ha of the North Okarito and Saltwater forests were being transferred into the Westland/Tai Poutini National Park.

Ms Lee said the Conservation Authority had recommended that 3000ha of existing conservation land surrounding North Okarito be added to the park and she had agreed.

Paparoa National Park will increase by nearly 25 per cent with the addition of 7400ha of Te Wharau Forest and part of the Little Totara block (Charleston Forest).

Kahurangi National Park is getting an extra 900ha with the additions of the North Karamea Forest and Te Namu Block (Mokihinui Forest).

The Government set up a $120 million fund to help West Coasters cope with the loss of forestry on Crown land, but its native forest logging ban was heavily criticised.

Ms Lee said it was interesting to note that "the sky didn't fall in on the West Coast" and that the economy was booming.

Forestry Minister Pete Hodgson said Timberlands was becoming a viable exotics-only plantation forestry company producing high quality pinus radiata.

Production was increasing to about 260,000 cu m next year, and a sustainable level of around 290,000 cu m in following years.

Mr Hodgson said Timberlands West Coast would this year pay its first ordinary dividend "albeit a small one".

"Given the rather turbulent history of the company, it's nice to see now that it's able to concentrate on its core business, which is producing high quality exotic timber.

"The company is now focused on maximising the value and return on its 28,000ha of exotics."

Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society president Gerry McSweeney hailed the end of state-sponsored native logging as a "landmark for conservation".

"These magnificent temperate rainforests and landscapes are a biological treasure-house for all New Zealanders."

- NZPA

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