Native Forest Action

Wildlife values & wildlife conservation in South Westland, Coker & Imboden (undated), NZ Wildlife Service, Fauna Survey Unit report no. 21. (Also refer to the appended map titled ‘wildlife habitat values’).

Extracts and notes to assist with the campaign to protect Westland forests from logging by Timberlands West Coast Ltd.

Peter Russell, July 1998

Maps: (Links open new windows).
Okarito & Waitangi Forests
Saltwater and Wanganui Forests
South Westland Land Use Study


In 1976 the Minister of Lands & Forestry directed a land use study of South Westland to consider present & future use of crown land in this area. The report on this study ‘... did not provide sufficient information to permit the adequate preservation of representative wildlife communities, nor did it identify the occurrence of rare or endangered wildlife in the region’ (p. 1). It was decided that a proper wildlife survey should be undertaken & a report be produced which would be regarded as an official supplement to the land use report. Extracts and notes regarding the supplementary report (hereafter referred to as ‘the report’) are presented below (the title of the report is provided at the head of this page).

N.B. The term ‘wildlife’ is used in many different ways. The report focuses on birds. Bats, seals, lizards & frogs are only mentioned briefly (partly due to a lack of information). Fish are mentioned mainly in relation to ‘sport fisheries’. I have access to more information on a much wider variety of threatened animals (& plants) that occur in areas threatened by Timberlands.


Aim of the report

The aim of the report was to provide ‘... an inventory of all important wildlife habitats in the region &, in particular, to assess the value of the wetlands, coastline & forests to wildlife’ (p. 2). Special attention was given to the occurrence & abundance of species with limited distribution or special habitat requirements to ‘... ensure that current & proposed reserves were consistent with their requirements for long-term survival’ (p. 2).


Study area

All land below 500m a.s.l. between the Waitaha River [just north of what was Ianthe Forest] & Big Bay [near Haast] (p. 4).


Habitats of note

N.B. See ‘wildlife habitat values’ maps; sheet 1 covers Ianthe, Saltwater & Okarito Forests.

‘Habitats of note’ were divided into 4 categories depending on their conservation value; outstanding, high, moderate/medium & potential (see below re definitions). The values ascribed to the forests were based on factors including ‘... the uniqueness or representativeness of the whole biotic community on a local, regional, national & international scale, [their] ... size & proximity to adjacent similar areas, extent of modification, species diversity & ... [the] individual species [they support]...’ (p. 6).

‘Outstanding’ = (presumably one OR more of the following);

* Presence of an endangered species.

* Presence of an isolated, viable population of an endemic species restricted in distribution and in low numbers.

* A largely unmodified habitat type not represented to the same extent elsewhere in the country & large enough to support self-sustaining populations of all plant & animal species which are part of this community’. (See p. 7 for explanation of other categories and note that qualities indicated by classifications lower than ‘outstanding’ will also apply to areas classified as ‘outstanding’).

The report separates ‘habitats’ into two groups;

1. Forests not classified as State Forests at the time the report was written,

2. ‘State Forests’ or ‘Residual State Forest Areas’ = forests classified as State Forests when the report was written. (State Forests were administered by the NZ Forest Service and were potentially loggable - depending on the management plan for each forest. After the report was produced some management plans were written which named some parts of some State Forests as Ecological Areas, in which logging is not allowed) .

N.B. The text of the report refers to 1. as ‘habitats of note’ and 2. as ‘State Forests’, but on the appended map (titled ‘wildlife habitat values’) ‘habitats of note’ refers to 1. and 2. collectively.


State Forests of outstanding conservation value

Four State Forests were classified as being of ‘outstanding’ conservation value; Ianthe, Saltwater, Okarito (North & South) & Cascade. The report (p.49-50) provides the following brief discussions on the three forests currently threatened by Timberlands;

Ianthe; ‘A lowland podocarp forest with high diversity of native species including falcon, parakeet, kaka & a high robin population.’

N.B. Most of Ianthe Forest was clearfelled, including clearfelling by Timberlands in the early 1990s.

Saltwater; ‘A lowland podocarp forest with very high bird abundance & diversity of native bird species. In both 1977 & 1978, Saltwater had significantly higher total numbers of birds &/or species than the other forests surveyed. With the exception of kaka, all the species used for comparison of the forests were in high numbers. Falcon & fernbird are also present. Saltwater S.F. includes the largest area of kahikatea forest left in South Westland (Poerua block). As this is now an uncommon habitat type, its presence was also considered in the rating of the forest.’

N.B. Although over half the forest has been selectively logged (including heavy logging by Timberlands), its ecological values strongly justify reservation. See West Coast Native Forests; Priorities for Conservation.

Okarito; ‘Lowland podocarp forest. Of all the state forests, Okarito had the highest number of native forest birds recorded during the course of the survey. These include falcon, kaka, parakeet, robin, brown kiwi & fernbird.’

N.B. South Okarito Forest is now part of Westland National Park & the South Westland World Heritage Area.

Although some logging has occurred in North Okarito Forest, its ecological values also strongly justify reservation. North Okarito Forest lies adjacent to Okarito Lagoon (classified in the report as a wetland of outstanding conservation value) and between NZs only breeding kotuku (white heron) colony and Westland National Park. Timberlands have been logging in this forest recently and are currently pushing roads into the unlogged heart of the forest. See West Coast Native Forests; Priorities for Conservation.


Summary (p. 79)

‘1. Together with the forests of Fiordland, North Westland & Nelson, the forests of South Westland form the last, large and continuous area of indigenous forest left in New Zealand.

2. These forests are still relatively intact & thus present a complete sequence of habitats from the mountain tops to the sea. Such a sequence is not found to the same extent elsewhere in New Zealand.

3. Extensive areas of predominantly podocarp forest are present over the lowland & terrace country. This is a most valuable habitat type & generally harbours a greater species diversity & abundance of birds. It is also important as a winter habitat for birds which spend the warmer months in the hill country. Podocarp forest has been severely depleted over much of New Zealand....

... 5. Both the forests & wetlands of this region contain species which are sensitive to modification of their habitats. Such species have declined in many other parts of New Zealand & they now have limited distributions. Conservation of their habitats in South Westland is therefore of prime importance to enhance the survival of these species.

6. The juxtaposition of wetlands & forest & the successions of habitats from wetlands through forests... form a unique & diverse mosaic. Most of the plants & animals that form these communities are found nowhere else in the world. Together they are part of a diverse and irreplaceable reservoir of continually evolving genetic material which is important for long term wildlife conservation. New Zealand has a responsibility on both national and international levels to ensure the survival of the unique bird and plant communities of South Westland.’


Recommendations (p. 80)

‘1. All wildlife habitats of note with outstanding or high value, not already protected, be provided with an appropriate designation.

2. Logging of remaining lowland podocarp forest to be kept to an absolute minimum.

3. As a general concept, sufficient areas of South Westland forest be retained for the conservation of wildlife and that these areas should comply with the biological principles necessary for maintaining viable wildlife communities. It is particularly important that they contain a full sequence from high to low altitude and that they fully provide for the movements and dispersal of birds (for example with season or altitude)....’


Particularly relevant topics & where to find them in the report

Importance of lowland forests for birds - pp. 4, 43, 47

Survey techniques - p. 5

Definition of the four conservation value categories - p. 7

Habitat loss - p. 9

Effects of ‘selective logging’ - p. 48

Wildlife values of State Forests - p.48

Distribution of wildlife - p. 57-71