Native Forest Action

The Beech Scheme

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The beech scheme has been around for decades. We are the third generation to be fighting it. In its earliest form it consisted of a massive industrial scale chipping program in which a huge chipping mill would run 7 days a week 24 hours a day. Due to intensive opposition the plan was shelved. It resurfaced in the eighties and was once again squashed. The latest version of the plans is accompanied by some very clever and expensive PR. An attempt has been made to dress the scheme up as ecologically sensitive and environmentally friendly. The term 'sustainable has been stolen and redefined, its meaning entirely twisted. The beech logging will be done in a sustainable manner claims Timberlands. That sounds great until you realise that the meaning of sustainable is now simply that the forest can be harvested in perpetuity. This bears no relation to the ecological sustainablitly that the term implies when used to describe forest management. It is a complete fraud.

If you have not read the plans yet you can follow one of the links below.

Click here to read an extended summary of the plans.
here to read the whole thing.

In addition, we have provided a short key point summary of the plans and an ecological assessment of its implications.



1. The leaked plans contain one of conservationists' worst fears of the last 25 years: an industrial scale plan to exploit West Coast beech forests.

2. Timberlands' "beech/ rimu" scheme would be larger in scale than all other native forest logging in New Zealand put together. It would push new roading and logging into 98,000 ha of public beech and rimu forest.

3. The scheme will more than triple the amount of native forest logging currently occurring on the West Coast and re-invigorate an industry that was winding down. Unless the scheme is stopped up to 300,000 beech trees and an unknown number of rimu could be logged each year.

4. Less than 15 % of New Zealand's lowland forest remains. Most of the beech and beech/ rimu forests managed by Timberlands are lowland forest below 700 metres.

5. The logging is occurring or planned in forests which the Department of Conservation has identified as having high conservation values and which provide habitat for species threatened with extinction such as kaka, great spotted kiwi, blue duck, parakeets and several native fish species. DoC has identified 92 % of the forests Timberlands controls as having "high" or "medium" conservation values.

6. Timberlands is targeting the best forest areas first. Logging has begun at Station Creek in the Maruia forests, described by the Department of Conservation as providing "outstanding wildlife habitat" because of the abundance and diversity of native birds. The Maruia forests are some of the most ecologically important of the beech forests controlled by Timberlands.

7. The "sustainable" beech scheme will involve logging more trees per hectare than occurs in the destructive logging Buller (e.g. Charleston forest). In Buller, 14% of merchantable trees are felled (PQ No 1761, 16 July 1998) compared to 10-12 % in the proposed beech scheme (Overview Plan, section 5.3). In the beech scheme, for every log taken to the sawmill, another two trees can be felled and left to rot in the forest in what is described as "improvement felling".

8. The scheme is a re-hash of the discredited Forest Service proposals of the 1970s and 1980s and involves a large number of trees being felled to produce very little quality timber. Instead of being chipped as proposed in the 1970s, defective timber trees will now be felled to waste in the forest. The language has changed. Instead of "selective logging" Timberlands uses "selection harvest" but the damage caused by intensive logging remains.

9. The leaked plans show up the deception in Timberlands' PR claims that the beech scheme simply involves logging "an average of one tree per hectare per year". Averages over large areas deliberately obscure the much more intensive logging which occurs in the much smaller forest "compartments" where logging is concentrated each year. At each site, groups of 2 to 10 trees will be felled for sawlogs. Sites can be less than 50 metres apart.

10. Government proposals to consult the public are a sham. The plans show that Government has already approved the first year of logging in the "Maruia Working Circle" which began on 1 April 1998. Public consultation (due to be announced next month) will only occur after the beech scheme has started .

11. The scheme is likely to be an uneconomic. There is little demand for beech as a timber. The scheme is production driven by foresters in Timberlands, rather than market driven by any demand for beech as a timber. In its 1998 Annual Report Timberlands acknowledges that beech is difficult to mill, has a high wastage factor, low recovery rates, and a costly and protracted drying process, and that it has been impossible to determine the "market depth" for beech timber.

12. Plantation timbers are readily available as alternatives to beech and rimu and are replacing them in both price and market acceptance. The same volume of timber (100,000 cubic metres) which Timberlands seeks to produce annually from the beech scheme could be provided by 11,500 ha of plantation pine.

13. Commercially, Timberlands is a failure. It survives because of its cash flow from rimu logging and because it is protected by Government from market realities. It pays a negligible royalty for native forest logging ($165,000 in the 1997/98 financial year) and little income tax ($26,000 in 1997/98). It will pay a royalty of only $5.00 per cubic metre for logs sent to mills and nothing for trees logged to waste as part of the "improvement felling".

14. The company has not paid a dividend for eight years and is only able to this year because it has sold its loss making spaghnum moss subsidiary. Timberlands admits that it faces declining sales, margins, and profitability (1998 Annual Report). It is seeking a cash injection from Government for an end to the Buller over-cut.

15. The management plans are biased and inconsistent. They admit no doubts or problems over their untested proposals and skim over the lack of information about much of the natural life in the forests proposed for logging. On one document, the stated objective is to "improve wildlife habitat" (Maruia Operations Plan 1988-99 p7) but in another it is merely to maintain wildlife habitat "as much as possible" (Maruia Sustainable Management Plan, p 42) The plans lack credibility.

16. The Ministry for the Environment's 1997 State of the Environment report concluded that "biodiversity decline is New Zealand's most pervasive environmental issue", and that two of the major pressures on indigenous biodiversity are insufficient habitat in lowland areas and the declining quality of many of the remaining land and freshwater habitats. Timberlands' beech scheme will destroy and degrade further areas of lowland forest habitat.

9 September 1998

Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society

Native Forest Action

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Ecological assessment of the Timberlands logging plans

Executive Summary

The Department of Conservation (1997) has said, "The most important conservation imperative for the survival of threatened species and representative ecosystems on the West Coast is the protection and restoration of low altitude ecosystems, and especially those which link or buffer existing protected natural areas."

Conservation assessment

The Department of Conservation (1997) has identified 92 % (or 120,829 ha) of the 132,000 ha) of the indigenous forests controlled by Timberlands as having "high" or "medium" conservation values deserving protection under DoC's national criteria for forest protection, virtually all being the high priority low altitude ecosystems. Logging will destroy or seriously degrade those values. The beech scheme involves 75% of the forests managed by Timberlands.

Impact of logging

The plans establish "permissible" logging levels using a logging and management model prepared for tropical forests. In the absence of any research base, a substantial "leap of faith" is required in applying the model to New Zealand conditions. The plans understate the contribution which logging, new roading and clearings makes to habitat fragmentation and reducing the presence, abundance and distribution of wildlife.

Token reserves

Some small areas are proposed to be set aside as reserves. In the Maruia Forest the reserve areas include limestone bluffs and outcrops which are too steep to log without major erosion problems and difficult access for logging crews, rather than areas which are important for birdlife.

Natural forests into plantations

Parts of the Paparoa and Grey valley beech forests, comprising a substantial part of the beech scheme total area, have been logged in the past and are now regenerating strongly. Production thinning is proposed to remove up to 12 % of the standing volume of the forest to improve timber quality. Production thinning will turn beech forests in beech plantations, changing their natural structure, species composition, growth regime.

No commitment to predator control

Timberlands' public relations material gives the strong impression that the company will fund extensive predator control from its logging operations. The beech scheme plans, however, include no commitments to any active predator control programmes even though commercial logging has already begun in the Maruia forests.

Impact of roading

Extensive new roading is proposed. Some 30 km of new roading and 22 new landing sites are proposed in just two of the four blocks in the Maruia forests. (Maruia SM Plan p 64). New roading will fragment now intact habitat and degrade areas with high conservation values.

Impact on ecology

The plans and prescriptions pay little attention to the effects which removing thousands of logs annually will have on nutrient capital, nutrient cycling, and on soil organic matter. Log removal is a major change in the natural forest dynamics and has the potential for significant adverse effects on ecosystem functioning.

Impact on wildlife

The beech forests contain outstanding native wildlife. No monitoring is proposed of the impacts of logging on the wildlife values of the Maruia forest (Maruia SM Plan, p 89). This would enable Timberlands to avoid acknowledging the impacts on birdlife. Riparian vegetation along streams less than 3 metres wide will be logged. The impacts of this on aquatic ecosystems and natural character are poorly described.

Lack of consultation

The company claims that "there has been widespread public consultation at every stage " (Overview p xiv). It has consistently refused to make available its draft management plans or any of the reports and wildlife and other survey reports on which they are based. Commercial scale beech logging has begun in the Maruia forests without any independent scientific or public assessment of the beech management plans or any opportunity for public consultation as promised under the West Coast Accord.

Beech scheme yet another native forestry experiment

The scheme repeats the discredited "suck it and see" experimentation done by the NZ Forest Service with such abortive results in the selective logging and clear-felling of West Coast rimu forests. "Selective logging" has just been replaced by "selection harvest". The research needed to provide a solid foundation for Timberlands' claims of "sustainable management" has not been done. The beech scheme would be a huge experiment.

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