NATIVE FOREST ACTION

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CONSERVATION AND REGIONAL DEVELOPMENT

NATIVE FOREST ACTION POLICY SERIES No. 5

September 1998

By Sean Weaver

INTRODUCTION

NFA believes that New Zealand should not be logging publicly owned indigenous forests and that this should stop at first opportunity. The forests currently being logged by Timberlands are the last remaining unprotected lowland native forests on public land. These forests represent a part of our natural heritage that has disappeared from the rest of the country. The vast majority of our protected natural areas are located at higher altitudes where forest clearance for pastoral farming did not happen in the colonial era. The West Coast is the only part of the country where extensive areas of publicly owned lowland native forest remain.

NFA also believes that regional development on the West Coast is vitally important for the prosperity of those communities and that conservation should not jeopardise regional employment or exacerbate the difficulties that have been suffered by many people on the Coast in recent years (e.g. closure of factories, hospital wards, post offices, mills etc.). We believe that there is a way of solving the issue of indigenous forest conservation and helping regional development simultaneously.

THE ISSUES

Native Forest Action supports a conservation and development package for the West Coast which arises from the understanding that:-

  1. Timberlands are running a publicly subsidised native logging operation where they pay the Crown a mere $5 per cubic meter for rimu;
  2. Taxpayer’s rate of return on Timberlands net assets of $111 million is less than one percent;
  3. Timberlands has paid no royalty to the Crown since its establishment 8 years ago;
  4. Over the last 100 years the capital value of West Coast resources has consistently been transferred to other regions resulting in the unavailability of investment capital for local manufacturing and social infrastructures (first acknowledged by the Government in 1959). This has resulted from the trend of ownership of West Coast private industries by outside interests (e.g. Auckland or Christchurch based businesses). This trend mimics the situation of uneven development suffered in developing countries and has helped to maintain them as marginal economies in the global system;
  5. Solving conservation problems in marginal economies can only be socially sustainable if it happens as part of a broader sustainable development package.
  6. The job losses that have occurred in recent years on the West Coast have been caused - not by conservation - but by a combination of state and private sector restructuring, and a variety of geographical difficulties (e.g. distance from markets, lack of infrastructures) which has, in its aggregate created conditions very unfavourable for regional development on the West Coast. This includes the loss of a significant proportion of the local manufacturing base which disappeared following the removal of development assistance grants, together with the removal of international trade tariffs which were designed to protect and maintain the domestic (and provincial) manufacturing sector. West Coast manufacturers such as Lane Walker Rudkin and PDL re-established their manufacturing operations in other countries once restructuring took effect in the late 1980s;
  7. The forests in question are among the finest native forests in the country for the simple fact that they are lowland forests. The lowland forests of the rest of the country have long disappeared under sheep and dairy farms (even on the West Coast - see NFA Information Series No. 1). What remains of our lowland forests are in fragmented locations on private land and, significantly, in large continuous tracts on public land on the West Coast. Many of these large tracts of publicly owned native forest are continuous with existing protected areas and if protected would make an historically unprecedented contribution to the conservation of biological diversity. It would be historically unprecedented because it would put an end to a long history of state sponsored environmental degradation in this country. It would also help to usher in a new phase in our nation’s maturity where we can move away from industries that are based on the exploitation of irreplaceable natural treasures - what is irreplaceable is the ecological integrity of the unmodified habitats which are home for our native wildlife;
  8. The West Coast Accord does not guarantee the continued logging of indigenous forest in perpetuity as claimed by Timberlands (see NFA information Series No. 2). It has been made clear by a High Court judgement in 1995 and a Court of Appeal judgement in 1997 that the commitment to the logging of publicly owned native forests on the West Coast is a function of Government policy - not contract. In particular, the Third Recital of the Accord provided for the logging of indigenous timber until sufficient quantities of exotic timber became available. According to figures from the Ministry of Forestry there is currently sufficient exotic timber available for the maintenance of West Coast mills which means that the continued logging of indigenous forests are in breach of the Accord as conservationists understood it when they signed it. Furthermore, the West Coast Accord in itself is an insufficient political and economic mechanism for the protection of the West Coast regional economy as demonstrated in its inability to stem the tide of more far reaching structural reforms that led more directly to loss of employment and weakening of the economy on the West Coast since 1987.
  9. Sustainability is a broad concept relating to the maintenance of certain physical and economic systems in such a way that future generations will inherit a set of resources that are capable of providing for their well-being, and the well-being of the ecological communities which form the natural capital of any society. The principle of sustainability includes harvests of certain flow resources in such a manner that the rate of harvest is not greater than the rate of renewal of that resource. This can apply to resources like water, fish, and timber.

However, in any country there are a number of environmental resources which are not flow resources. They include habitats for a variety of plant and animal species whose survival depends on the maintenance of key functional relationships within intact ecological systems. Disrupting these functional relationships through fragmentation of ecosystems (e.g. logging and roading in the case of a forest) leads to the degradation of the functional integrity of those ecosystems, which in turn leads to the loss of habitat for those species which depend on unmodified environments. While no ecosystem is free from natural disturbance, the character of human induced disturbance (e.g. roading) is often fundamentally different from natural disturbance (e.g. wind damage, landslides, floods) which have occurred for millennia.

Indeed the regime of natural disturbance is an integral part of any ecological system. Add human induced disturbances to this natural regime and you change the entire disturbance pattern, and in turn change the functional interdependencies which make up a habitat. A good example is roading which riddles an area with access routes for predators, pests, and weeds, increases edge effects, disrupts water tables, and opens areas up to wind damage. Roads are to forests as borer is to wood. Logging removes biomass and nutrients (wood) from the forest, it increases the rate of canopy openings, it removes trees that would otherwise die standing, it creates bigger canopy openings (i.e. from the falling of a healthy tree), and it can change the age structure of the forest.

  1. Accordingly, the principle of sustainability includes the necessity to leave certain areas entirely alone and manage them in an intact state which will allow natural processes to continue. Predators, pests and weeds need to be controlled as much as possible in such areas. What little remains of our lowland native forests needs to be protected from all human induced disturbances as much as possible in order to sustain them as habitats for native wildlife which have lost their homes and become extinct from other parts of the country (e.g. kaka).
  2. If there is no option but to log these forests in order to protect them then we must log them. But this is clearly not the case. Small scale logging as a means of protecting the broader forest system may be appropriate in certain circumstances (e.g. some tribal lands in the Island Pacific). But these forests are owned by the New Zealand Government, and there are many development alternative which would allow for the maintenance of local economies and employment.

POLICY FRAMEWORK

Native Forest Action proposes the following policy framework that is split into two parts A. Conservation, and B. Sustainable Development which reinforce each other.

A. Conservation.

End the logging of indigenous forests on public land immediately. Transfer these forests to the Department of Conservation and increase the Department of Conservation budget to enable the conservation management of these forests. Political implications: support from the nation wide green movement and the majority of ordinary New Zealanders who have indicated their support for the protection of these forests.

B. Sustainable Development

This amounts to regional development assistance in exchange for conservation. This involves regional assistance in terms of social and economic infrastructures which can be financed by a combination of central government grants together with increased local control over certain local resource assets. Options include:-

  1. Establish regional development assistance grants targeting locally owned businesses, particularly pine processing, tourism and other manufacturing. These grants could be given a name that associates them with their source in a conservation/regional development package (e.g. West Coast Sustainable Development Grants).
  2. Increase regional funding for health and education for the West Coast.
  3. Exotic forestry planting in the Buller as requested by the Buller Mayor.
  4. Sewage disposal plants for Greymouth, Reefton, and Westport as suggested by the Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society.
  5. A regional pest and weed control programme for protected areas on the West Coast employing people with a West Coast electoral address. This could be conducted in association between the West Coast Regional Council and the Department of Conservation.
  6. Transfer the ownership of West Coast state pine resources to a trust controlled by local West Coast interests with trustees including local authorities, local Maori, industry representatives, and local community groups. This trust could be established on the basis of a policy to award timber harvesting and processing contracts to locally owned businesses. This would ensure that a significant proportion of the profits generated from exotic forestry development remains on the West Coast for reinvestment in the regional economy (rather than being transferred to other regions as has been common in the past). It would also provide revenues for local authorities.
  7. Institute a levy on coal ($2/tonne) as currently being sought by West Coast councillors. Result: increased local government revenues in a region with one of the worst rate revenue/service requirement ratios in the country.
  8. Institute a tourism levy as a proportion of departure tax based on the proportion of visitors travelling to the West Coast per annum. This can be justified under the understanding that (a) a significant proportion of tourists are visiting New Zealand on the basis of our international reputation as a wilderness destination; and (b) this reputation is based in part (yet significantly) on the existence of internationally significant protected areas on the West Coast. Result: provide the basis for funding assistance to the West Coast Tourism Council.

The overall theme of this is sustainable regional development where local people can gain the development benefits of local resources in terms of their capital value and the circulation of this capital in the local economy. These policy options are very general, and are aimed at demonstrating that there are alternative forms of development that can accommodate the economic needs of local communities as well as the conservation needs of a nation (notwithstanding our international obligations under the Convention on Biodiversity).

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