Trees downed by cyclone to be harvested

  • 19/06/2014

Special legislation to allow native timber damaged by Cyclone Ita to be harvested is expected to be passed in Parliament.

The cyclone hit the West Coast on April 17 and felled an estimated 20,000 hectares of forest, and caused significant damage to a further 20,000 hectares. The Government has called it the worst windfall damage in generations.

But the Green Party says conservation law shouldn't be changed on a case-by-case basis.

An estimated several million cubic metres of beech, rimu, matai, totara and miro trees were blown over during the cyclone.

Conservation Minister Nick Smith says the West Coast Windblown Timber (Conservation Lands) Bill restricts the recovery of useable wood to areas affected by the cyclone and excludes World Heritage areas, national parks, ecological areas and the white heron sanctuary reserve at Whataroa.

Permission to take the timber will be at the discretion of the Department of Conservation (DOC), where the proposed method is safe for workers and the public and has minimal environmental impacts.

"This initiative will provide welcome jobs and economic opportunities for the West Coast at a difficult time, and will provide a financial return to DOC that can be reinvested in conservation work," Dr Smith says.

"It is a tragedy that so much forest has been wrecked by Cyclone Ita, but no good purpose is served by leaving it all to rot."

He says the legislation is needed because the current Conservation Act doesn't include timber recovery in extreme weather events.

The recovery of the timber will end on July 1, 2019 when the bill expires and all revenue from royalties will go to DOC.

Greens' conservation spokeswoman Eugenie Sage says the legislation is short-sighted and "boom and bust short-term thinking".

"It was illegal to log these forests, a storm is no reason to change the law," she says.

"New Zealanders fought for years to end native logging and protect the West Coast's forests. We shouldn’t turn back the clock."

The Bill will be introduced and passed by Parliament next week under urgency and has the backing of United Future and the Maori Party.

Passing the Bill under urgency means the public aren't consulted, Ms Sage says.

"Nowhere is protected from this Government. National is happy to allow our rivers to be too polluted to swim in, let the Maui’s Dolphin go extinct, and wanted to open up our national parks for mining. We can’t let them weaken our conservation law."

Ms Sage believes the Government shouldn't allow logging native forests to pay for pest control, and should rather fund DOC properly instead.

Stumpage prices for rimu are $250 per cubic metre and $60 per cubic metre for beech.

Dr Smith says it is not possible to estimate the volume and value of timber which could be removed because extracting it could be costly and involve the use of helicopters, and because of safety and environmental constraints.

It is possible the legislation could become permanent to allow windblown timber to be recovered in future, but Dr Smith is reluctant to do it while passing the legislation under urgency.

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