A recent Niwa Scientific report (Midweek, January 10) had a fascinating article about how our indigenous forests "suck up" carbon dioxide in larger volumes than overseas established forests.

Another Chronicle science report (January 17) describes how a team of scientists are setting up a system in Fiordland's wilderness to measure the above effect in more detail. The system will allow more accurate data to be recorded of what they call "carbon dioxide fluxes", which seem to absorb as much as 60 per cent of greenhouse gases.

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Scientists hypothesise that our New Zealand native endemic forests are far more effective at scrubbing toxic atmosphere than any other worldwide habitat. This seems to indicate we should be reinstating our indigenous native forests as a carbon sink credit for our big industrial neighbours like China and India.


Successive NZ governments since settlers' times have encouraged the replacement of native forests with exotic pine trees in the belief that it was better for our economy to enter the timber, pulp and paper industries.

This was completely against advice from scientific reports that advised protecting the unique natural status of the NZ continent until research had been carried out. These scientists like Dr James Hector who, in 1865, as director of geological studies, begged our Government to stop the wholesale destruction of our forests by settlers and gum diggers. And again, in 1908, Dr Leonard Cockayne, a world-famous visiting scientist, was completely ignored by our Government.

Any conservationist must cringe when they see or drive through a freshly logged pine forestry site. It will be obvious that these areas of "ripped up" hillsides of often delicate landscapes, are not going to recover for many (perhaps hundreds of) years. It will also be obvious why the adjacent streams will be turned to toxic mudflows in future rainstorms.

To add insult to injury, most of these forests are foreign-owned and "ripped up" every 25 years.

Of course, we must acknowledge the $5.7 billion annually added to our GDP, but we must not hide the costs to our health and environment. I worked for 35 years in the pine timber industry; I cleared land and planted 40,000 pine trees. I have spent 18 years on my lifestyle block with hundreds of 60-year-plus pine trees all around my home, and I see the damage they are doing to our environment.

A "ray of hope" for me is Shane Jones' $500,000 incentive to start a totara forest industry up north. I believe Kiwi ingenuity (and respect for nature) could start a "brand new dawn" for the forest industry.

Another "ray of hope" was Peter Frost's recent Conservation Comment, which showed that despite the last nine years of National government cutting aid to conservation and promoting bad environmental projects, privately funded schemes are fighting back.

Peter's Comment documented many altruistic acts by philanthropists, farmers and volunteers who are funding and managing conservation projects like Bushy Park and private riverside plantings of native flora. This gives me hope that New Zealanders will not see our country destroyed.

Rob Butcher is a retired engineer and a conservationist.