The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 30
Conservation of our Forests
Conservation of our Forests.
Mr. Chairman and Gentlemen,
While I have presumed in the motion to make allusion to other provinces and the colony, yet the remarks I am about to make should be understood as being intended to apply to the requirements of this province only, as regulations suiting us may be unnecessary in other parts of the colony. I wish also to direct the attention of the Council solely to the consideration of waste by fire, taking no account of the rapid utilization of our kauri. Although this is giving grave concern to those who would like to practice thoughtfulness in the interests of the future, as matters now stand such sentiments are Utopian, experience teaching forest owners that there is wisdom in hastening its conversion into cash, as delay may find it transformed into smoke by the brand of the fire-raiser. The people of this province are possessed of large tracts of land, that the forest now growing upon them is the best and most valuable crop they can produce, and upon very much of these lands perhaps its forest is the only crop of value it ever will produce. Notwithstanding this, we arc, to my mind, deeply guilty of acting as if it is a matter of no consequence that this valuable property is being rapidly reduced to ashes. During the past few weeks many millions of kauri and other woods have been destroyed in this way; from far up northward to down southward, near the extreme limits of growing kauri, has the destroyer been spreading his weird mantle of flame. Several large patches of kauri, besides vast quantities of ordinary growths that should have been treasured stores to be brought forth in times of future need, have been wantonly wasted. I have in mind one very valuable piece of kauri bush (belonging to the Crown) that was ruined during this summer. Such a misfortune makes no stir among the people of this province; our newspapers are silent, and yet the reforestry efforts of the next forty years will not reproduce in any part of this colony arboreal growth approaching it either in beauty or value. The destruction of this one piece I estimate as a loss of nearly £20,000, the bulk of which would have been paid away in wages to the various professions of workmen connected with forest and lumber operations. I also estimate that within the last thirty-five years bush fires have destroyed not less than 340 millions of marketable kauri trees, and three times this quantity of other yet useful kinds of woods. In addition to this, the kauri trees below the present standard of marketable, but yet of a diameter from 1 to 2ft. that have been destroyed by fire is from two to three times more in number than have been utilized by the forester's axe. Within thirty years such growths of kauri will (if preserved) become invaluable partly by natural (though trifling) growth, and partly because commerce will in time develop require- page 6 ments for which such trees will be sufficiently suitable. The destruction of the 340 millions of kauri first mentioned means a loss to this province of about as follows:—Wages to be paid for labour upon it, before it would reach the ships' rail, in the average proportions of rough and dressed lumber, £950,000. To shipping interests it would average a freight value of £230,000, and to proprietors, merchants, and agents, would total £110,000 more, making a total of £1,290,000; and I believe that those who are informed on these subjects will say that the amount is much understated. It is also to be borne in mind that I exclude the operations of remanipulation incident to manufacturing, and the large industrial interest accompanying retailing.
It is a subject deserving of attention (but that cannot be admitted within the limits of the time to be spared from the regular business of this afternoon) to trace up the economic value of such a sum to this province. To properly realise it one must grasp in its great breadth the distributive characteristic of disbursements made under our timber operations. It is a business that scatters wages with no stinting hand, and it benefits a community in which it is situated far more than the proprietary who run it. A wool crop of £4,000,000 will not give employment to half the population that a timber business (grossing £1,000,000) will thrill with the busy energy of continuous employment. Running a timber concern, like working coal measures, infiltrates wages through the masses, while the proprietary have to be wary if interest is secured on the capital employed. I suspect the people of this province of not realising what its timber industry is doing for them. I do not wish even to suggest that if the kauri trade was to be suddenly withdrawn from Auckland its streets would become grassed to the ankles and the Harbour Board offices would be turned into a storehouse for fishing nets. I believe that the province has resources apart from its timber trade that, if not downright smothered with an incubus of squandered borrowings, will enable it to sustain a large and prosperous population. But nevertheless, as an element of present prosperity and to promote successful settlement, we cannot do better than cherish to the utmost what is now the means of supplying an occupation to a large number of our people. Exclusive of the manufactories, our timber trade is already employing about 2,800 persons. The chairman of a timber company publicly stated that his company paid £99,275 in wages for the year previous to the meeting which he addressed. During the month of December last the bush mill proprietaries paid in wages over £30,000, and during Christmas week between £18,000 and £19,000 was so paid. Suppose that this circulation was withdrawn, what a paralysing shrinkage would soon follow in the operations of our tradesmen and merchants! City properties would rapidly sink in value, rents would decline, so that landlords would wish to be such no longer, while cottagers would page 7 sell at any sacrifice the homes built out of the hard-earned savings of years, in order that they might be free to choose some other spot where depression would be less keenly felt. In short, ten to twelve thousand of our population would have their attention forced to other locations than those in which they are now obtaining a livelihood.
It is not our kauri timber only that we need to protect from fire. If the present system of wantonly firing the country is tolerated for another seven or eight years, not only will there be very little kauri left, but there will be a calamitous shrinkage of all other forests. Under the best system of conservation about twenty-five years will bring in the closing phases of our kauri bushes; but when that period reaches the people then living, the large areas of what are known now as common bushes will (if protected from fire) supply them with a profitable and more extended source of employment than that of the kauri to us, and it will be of far more value because of the larger supply of such timber. I have this belief because that many of the woods growing in our bushes, and at present unnoticed, are superior to some of the valued timbers of Europe. For productive dimensions of trunk, they much exceed them, as many of the mill booms of both the Baltic and America are now being supplied with logs scarcely equalling the diameters attained by even such trees as our tawa and tarairi. If, then, the present value of our kauri is so great, and if our ordinary timbers may become a factor of so much moment in the future industrial economy of the country, a mission is imposed upon every one in this colony of endeavouring to protect from wanton waste a property that once lost will never be replaced. Seven years ago I tried to impress upon the Government the urgency of providing adequate protection to a resource which, by common assent, is admitted to be of colonial importance. Had earnest effort of conservation from fire been put forth then, the forest wealth of this province would now be £150,000 more than it is.
Let us now glance at some of the provisions that suggest themselves as necessary in an effective scheme for preventing bush fires. I at once admit that it will prove an intricate task to devise forest laws that shall bear upon their face such an impressment of severity that wrong-doers will not dare to trifle with their precepts, and yet that at the same time they shall not unreasonably interfere with arrangements incident to settlement. So peculiar and complex are the circumstances accompanying this sin of forest-burning, that it will require great care in framing enactments that shall effectually arrest the firing, and yet not trench too much upon the requirement of families who are making homes within districts more or less timbered. I believe that this section of our colonists will prove themselves rather helpful than otherwise in enforcing regulations which will give easement to their own risks from bush fires. Thoughtful settlers have expressed themselves to me as very much page 8 concerned over the reckless burning of forests in their districts. They feel that the suppression of this scourge will be a means of imparting increased permanency of value to their homesteads, as the timber industry provides the best market for much of their produce, and is also helpful in supplying them with occasional work. Very few thus interested but will cheerfully acquiesce in the principle that there are months during the summer season when it ought to be held unlawful for them to fire even their own clearings excepting under official sanction, and the interests of the State may demand that it shall control fires for "burning off" at a season when it may-jeopardize standing forest, even though that forest is the property of the person so doing.
|1.||Special—such as kauri, or other kinds of woods interspersed with valuable patches of kauri, making it specially inflammable.|
|2.||Dense forest growths, entirely without or having very little kauri, but having, as was before stated, a great prospective value.|
|3.||Fern and patchy tree growth, of no importance for timber purposes. But such tracts, when contiguous to or conjoined with forests, are, if fired in the summer months, the foresters' terror. Fires have been kindled on fern ranges miles away from the forests they have eventually burnt valuable bush. There are times when ferns may be safely "flashed," and it may be needful that this should be done, but in forest districts, only under proper supervision.|
Rangers would be a part of the machinery appointed under Government sanction, but not necessarily in all cases nominated or paid by it. Private parties would in many places take the cost upon themselves. Such a service during a few months of the year would inflict only a trifling expense compared with the loss of timber and the costly toil of struggling with the fires that now yearly beset them. I would object to rangers that are paid by private parties being merely Government servants. Such persons are often disposed to shirk hard work, and you will never make a good ranger out of a lazy man. The constabulary will be of little service. I know where one is stationed at some cost to a company and where fires have been rife; but with both the Police and the Land Acts in his hands the gentleman has made weight like a stalled calf, and it seems as if the oily tissue of excessive dewlap softens away the energy that should be the glory of a policeman. One reason for this, perhaps, is that there are no stripes or increased pay for scars page 9 gotten from cutty-grass wounds—no medal for courageous and persistent effort in suppressing bush fires; yet many a Victoria Cross has been won with less effort and no more risk to life than I have known some men to go through in doing battle in a forest to save it from the flames that raged around them.
|1.||Where there is forest, scrub, or fern, no fires should be kindled (during the dry season) outside of a building until a suitable area had been carefully cleared of rubbish or inflammable material.|
|2.||Such fires after being used should be extinguished. Camp fires have been left in the morning when the air was calm, but the wind afterwards rising, sparks have been driven before it, becoming the origin of destructive fires.|
|3.||No person shall be allowed to dig for kauri gum without a license.|
|4.||Digging without license to subject to fine, or imprisonment if not paid.|
|5.||License to be granted free of cost.|
|6.||License should define the limits of the area (not too large), and the locality over which it authorises the holder to search for gum.|
|7.||It should not be transferable, and should be produced on demand by anyone having an interest in the district.|
|8.||Licensee, if wishing to change his ground, will require from Ranger either a new license or an endorsement describing or allotting change of location.|
|9.||Holders of licenses to be held liable to do their utmost to extinguish any fires breaking out within the area described in their license.|
A fire occurring under suspicious circumstances (within a proclaimed district), the Ranger should require an inquiry to be held before not less than two justices.
If persons holding licenses are in the opinion of the Bench guilty of omitting to exercise due care and precaution to prevent fire, or shall be wanting in reasonable effort to suppress the same within their boundaries, it should have the power either to cancel or suspend for a time the right to dig for gum, as it may deem the merits of the case to demand. The judgment to have effect throughout the Province of Auckland.page 10
|12.||Any person found guilty of wilfully firing forest should be committed for trial at the Supreme Court just as if he had burnt stacks of wheat or hay.|
|13.||Punishment for wilfully setting fire to bush within a proclaimed district should be severe (or the law will be ineffective), say from one day to five years.|
I suggest this extreme latitude in the penalty, because that I have known cases whore firing was so maliciously done that five years was too little; while in other instances fires have been started with the intention of burning off the fern only, and without the slightest suspicion that it would reach forest that was miles away. Sometimes intervals of weeks have elapsed from the time it was first kindled until it reached the forest it ultimately consumed. In such cases imprisonment for the shortest term would enable the country sufficiently to mark its displeasure at an act which, though done in sheer thoughtlessness, might be a ruinous incident for the district in which it occurred.
The resolutions were seconded by Cr. Sinclair, J.P., and carried unanimously.
Printed by H. Brett, Evening Star Office, Auckland.