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Timberlands West Coast Limited and the forests of Aotearoa

by Dean Baigent-Mercer from Native Forest Action (NFA)

Timberlands West Coast Limited (TWCL) is a state owned enterprise. They are busy destroying ancient forests with outstanding conservation values, in which, if the land was privately owned, the logging would not be allowed. They have paid one paltry dividend of $650,000 to the government in their eight years of existence.

Prior to humans’ arrival, lowland forest covered 83 percent of our country’s land area. Between then and now, 86 percent of that has been lost. In the same time period, just over 40 percent of the native birds and frogs have become extinct.


Timberlands logs approximately 15,000 rimu each year (equivalent to about 30,000 cubic metres of timber). 75 percent of Timberlands’ income is gained from rimu logged in a way that even Timberlands admits is unsustainable, from the Buller region under the auspices of the West Coast Forest Accord. The company just takes what it wants, leaving a skeleton of what was there originally

The compromise of the West Coast Accord hinged on the agreement that rimu was allowed to be clearfelled until the local exotic pine plantations were ready to be cut - thus allowing a transition from a native to an exotic timber industry. These pine plantations are now ready for harvest. But felling of rimu continues in breach of the West Coast Accord. The rest of Timberlands’ rimu is from the so-called ‘sustainably managed’ forests of North Okarito and Saltwater. These forests have ‘outstanding wildlife values’ and are habitat for nearly 30 species of birds. North Okarito and Saltwater forests are worthy of World Heritage status which is being compromised every day the logging is allowed to continue.

In 1997, over and above Timberland’s rimu logging, 5,600 cubic metres of rimu was taken from private land nationwide under the provisions of the Forest Amendment Act 1993. A further 3,600 cubic metres was cut under the South Island Landless Maori Act 1906.

More than half of all rimu used in 1997 was made into furniture, while the rest was used for flooring, joinery, mouldings and panelling. The majority of rimu is being sold as ‘aged’, ‘distressed’ or as fake ‘recycled’ wood, or is said to come from ‘sustainably managed’ forests when it doesn’t. To be sure, rimu is best avoided altogether unless you are convinced - beyond any doubt - that it has a truly recycled origin.

There is a good article about the nationwide scam surrounding claims of ‘recycled’ rimu in the August 1998 Consumer magazine.


TWCL has a proposal to log 98,000 hectares of beech on the West Coast of the South Island. To make their logging appear ‘low impact’ Timberlands’ public relations material says they are "effectively logging one tree per hectare per year". This already accounts for 98,000 beech trees annually. But for each one of these trees taken to a mill, two more would be cut down to rot on the forest floor. Timberlands calls this ‘improvement felling’. These ‘defective’ trees provide good homes for the forest’s inhabitants - but don’t conform to the industry’s needs. This ‘improvement felling’ would bring the annual total of beeches cut up to 294,000. An unknown number of rimu would be logged as well.

TWCL has contracted the local subsidiary of one of the United States’ largest public relations companies, Shandwick (NZ) Ltd (who have, for instance, run a campaign trying to convince the world that the greenhouse effect doesn’t exist) to make its logging intentions appear environmentally pleasant. The plans have gone through six months of intensive re-writes to achieve this. However, despite the ‘greenwash’ the enormity of the scheme and the certainty of its serious consequences shine through.

In April 1998, the government allowed beech logging to begin, calling it ‘trial logging’. But Timberlands was actually beginning to implement the logging plans which the government did not seek public comment on until seven months later, in October and November 1998. Timberlands has moved into the very best areas of the Maruia Forest and begun logging beech. This forest is known for having the best numbers of kakariki/bush parakeet in the country. They are heard chattering in the trees and their silhouettes can be seen as they dive across the valleys.

All of the forests at present controlled by Timberlands are simply too good to be logged. The Department of Conservation has assessed that 92 percent of these forests have high or medium values - they are some of the best native forests left in the country and include the North Okarito, Maruia, Orikaka, Saltwater and Paparoa Forests. Native Forest Action would like to see these areas protected as National Parks and reserves.

If you would like to become involved in the campaign to save our native forests, contact Native Forest Action at PO Box 836, Nelson, phone: 03 545-6040, e-mail: nfa_office@ts.co.nz, or visit us at the first floor, 284 Trafalgar Street, Nelson or via our website: www.converge.org.nz/nfa


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