Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. [Volume 39, Issue 8. April 1976]
Logging at Akarito
Logging at Akarito
South Westland may seem a strange place to hold the annual conference of a national organisation, but not if you have heard of the Native Forests Action Council (NFAC).
This council, the most active of all forest conservation groups, held its conference at Franz Josef over the Easter weekend, in order to publicise the imminent logging of the Okarito State Forest by a local sawmill.
The commencement of selection logging, under milling rights given by the New Zealand Forest Service, is seen as a possible threat to the continued survival of the Kotuku or white heron.
This rare bird, which feeds in the Okarito Lagoon at the edge of the Okarito forest, may lose its major source of food if the catchment of the lagoon is milled
NFAC believes that widespread logging of the Northern Okarito forest will result in the silting up of the lagoon, and the raising of the water table.
This fear for the white heron is coupled with the more obvious concern about the acceptability of any logging at all of the magnificent virgin lowland Rimu forests.
NFAC has mounted a campaign to bring public attention to this logging, in the hope that pressure may be brought to bear on the Minister of Forests (Venn Young) to concede some political ground.
NFAC Approaches Environment Minister
Early in January, NFAC wrote to the Minister asking for an immediate stay on the proposed logging, and an environmental impact report on the effects of such logging on the Okarito Lagoon. NFAC also asked that both of the State forests proposed for milling, Waikukupa in the south and Okarito in the north be included in the adjacent Westland National Park.
The effect of this request would be to establish a unique mountain tops - to - the - sea reserve of public land, incorporating some of the best pure Rimu stands in the country.
The Minister refused this request, and said that logging will commence shortly in an initial block of 164 hectares close to the edge of the lagoon.
This small area is only the beginning though, as up to 6,000 hectares is available for logging, on the Minister's approval, and such approval is unlikely to be withheld.
Realising this, and the fact that logging was imminent, NFAC reluctantly decided to acknowledge that some selectively-milled Rimu was going to be lost. Hence a continuation of the request for admission of all of Okarito and Waikukupa State Forests was no longer meaningful.
A compromise was offered. In return for the careful selection of trees from the northern Okarito forest, NFAC wanted a definite admission of all of Waikukupa and southern Okarito into Westland National Park.
It also demanded that at least 3km of untouched forest be retained as a buffer between the lagoon and the edge of the milled area. This recognised the irreversibility of the Minister's stand, and offered further protection to the lagoon and Kotuku.
It is worth noting that the Okarito Lagoon is already a reserve, and that it does have a buffer zone of forest. However, the buffer is only 100m wide which provide no protection to the ecology of the feeding grounds.
If the Forest Service milled up to this line, therefore, it would destroy its own reserve; a not uncommon phenomenon in New Zealand forest management.
Professor Knox of Canterbury University told a public meeting in Christchurch last month that a minimum of 3km was his recommendation. NFAC accepts his expertise in favour of the Forest Service's suggestion, which has not been subject to the environmental assessment NFAC demanded.
No Reaction from Minister
The Minister has not yet reacted to this offer, except to say that he is 'sympathetic' to the idea of including some lowland forest in the National Park.
While this may seem encouraging, he is really only talking of a 'corridor' of forest to the sea, which is unacceptable to the members of NFAC.
The Okarito controversy is a continuation of the battle between the production forestry attitudes inherent in the Forst Service's mentality, and the desire for a fuller and more long term view of New Zealand's native forests.
NFAC has developed to promote and defend the qualities and worth of the native bush, particularly as the history of human occupation of New Zealand' has coincided with a wanton destruction of vast areas of the natural vegetation.
The continuation of this destriction can no longer be justified in terms of the need for agricultural land nor for large quantities of timber. Yet this is the attitude of the sawmillers of the West Coast and elsewhere who see the exploitation of native forests as a reasonable and justified economic activity.
Native forests are not suited for large scale commercial exploitation both because of their botanical and zoological significance, and economic factors. Long rotation periods (100 - 300 years), high transport and milling costs, erosion and pest control problems, and the interference with water catchments all militate against the use of forests on a sound long term basis.
The felling of West Coast Beech and Rimu forests can only be viewed as a short term gain for local millers, at the expense of all those who value standing native forests above sawn timber or chips.
Anti-Forest Arguments Refuted
The argument that the mills contribute to employment and regional development is the one most often used by the advocates of the exploitation of public forests, many of them virgin.
These ideas can be refuted on the grounds that an equivalent number of persons could be employed either in tourism, or in other smaller scale, forest based industries, such as furniture making; using a forest on a sustained yield basis.
It is also conceivable that other industrial initiatives could be undertaken to diversify the employment structure of the Coast.
Certainly the heavy taxpayer support of the West Coast sawmills, both in direct aid, and through the Forest Service stumpage formula, should be compared to other means of achieving the same end. The West Coast does need regional assistance, but not at any cost.
The uses to which the Rimu and Beech are presently put are a cause for concern also, as they contradict the new Forest Service indigenous forest policy.
This policy desires that timbers be used for their 'highest end use' - not presumbably the construction of packing cases (Christchurch), boxing (Twizel), wood chips (Nelson) and house framing.
NFAC supports the principle of a better and more limited use of native timbers, but only if it can be done on a sustained yield basis. Cut out and get out is not acceptable.
The 250 people attending the Okarito conference endorsed the previous policies of NFAC and instructed the National Executive to continue the fight to protect native forests anywhere, under the terms of the Maruia Declaration. Unanimous agreement was reached both to Okarito and the national scene.
You can help to save and protect our native forests in Okarito by writing to the Minister of Forests, or by contacting the local branch of NFAC. Act now before its too late.