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  THE QUESTION OF SUSTAINABILITY

By Sean Weaver - NFA Education Officer

TIMBERLANDS PROPAGANDA

Timberlands and their supporters are consistently claiming that what they are doing and what they propose to do is sustainable. "Sustainable, sustainable, sustainable" they chant with the hope that the public will believe them. Timberlands public relations people have honed in on this word and are doing their best to use it to bend the minds of the nation into thinking that we should be logging these forests if we are to be true to visions of a sustainable future. This is no different from claims that whaling should be supported by conservationists if it is done on a sustained yield basis. Soon "sustainability" will be used to justify the on-going harvest of social justice campaigners in East Timor. Do not be fooled.

The Timberlands public relations effort is also claiming that we need to be using all resources sustainably including agriculture, and urban consumption. This line is designed to solicit the sympathies of environmentalists around the country who are dedicated to conservation in a very general sense. It is an attempt to divert people’s attention away from:-

  1. what Timberlands are doing (e.g. the heavy logging of rimu in the Buller, the logging of Okarito and Saltwater forest, and the beech logging in the Maruia);
  2.  
  3. what they have done (i.e. clear felling at Ianthe); and,
  4.  
  5. what they plan to do (i.e. a massive beech scheme).

They claim that we are hypocrites because we are "ignoring" these other issues. Not so. In fact, the protection of the lowland native forests of this country is consistent with the broader meaning of "sustainability" as understood by the world’s environmentalists, and environmental organisations. To apply Timberlands logic we ought to be sustainably selling our children into prostitution (not all of them, just those that we can replace easily - it will help them contribute to economic growth), sustainably selling our grandparents to glue factories (not all of them, just some - the ones that would die anyway), sustainably harvesting paint from the Mona Lisa (because it is a valuable type of paint and we could sell it in the tourist industry). In reply to this, at a public meeting on the West Coast in mid September this year a critic of NFA said "ha, that’s all wrong because unlike paint trees re-grow." And in response a local Maori burst forth and bellowed "You try and re-grow a moa!" Of course, extinction is forever, and this is what this is about.

SUSTAINING ECOSYSTEMS

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.

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).

PRESERVATION VS CONSERVATION

The Timberlands PRopaganda machine claims that they are conservationists and not preservationists like us na´ve greenies who, according to Minister of State Owned Enterprises Tony Ryall, are living in a "1970s time-warp." To be a conservationist is to conserve, but preservationists just "say no" to everything according to Kit Richards of Timberlands. Indeed NFA says "yes" to protecting priceless national treasures, and we do not want to preserve them - only allow them to survive without the onslaught of logging and roading. They will evolve in their own way if we let this happen.

Timberlands are using the so called "conservationist" argument (contra preservationist) that the use of certain resources need only be sustained at certain levels for such harvests to be environmentally legitimate. While this may be naively true, such arguments tend to be put forward by those who have no genuine interest in environmental protection as such, and are looking for political excuses to justify their existing (profits) harvest. Examples of this are common in the fishing industry, and like those fishing industry heavy-weights who make sure that Ministry of Fisheries data is ignored by the Government when setting catch quotas, the logging heavies like Timberlands will do anything to ensure that they get business as usual. They will even claim that they are protecting these forests better than we can. Don’t be fooled. The stakes are high which is why they are putting up such a fight. If we were not being effective they would be ignoring us. So keep it up and help us sustain these ecosystems for their own sake, for the sake of our ancestors, our children and their children…


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