9 May 2014

Govt may log wind-felled trees

8:32 pm on 9 May 2014

Department of Conservation officials have been given a week to find out how hard it will be to harvest some of the tens of thousands of native trees blown over by high winds on the West Coast.

Twenty-thousand hectares of forest, on both private land and the conservation estate, was devastated by last month's storm.

Most roads have been cleared of fallen trees.

The storm swept through West Coast plantations Photo: SUPPLIED / Shona Rathgen

Conservation Minister Nick Smith said the loss of so much valuable timber was a conservation disaster and if it was not harvested in the next few months, beech trees especially would be damaged by borer and staining.

Changing the Conservation Act to allow logging on the Coast was difficult, however, and officials would report back in a week on the challenges involved, he said.

Because it was such an extraordinary event, he was not ruling out making a special provision but there was a lot of work to do before that bridge could be crossed.

Only trees in areas of lower ecological value would be considered, not wind-blown native trees in national park areas.

"The bulk of the area is the lower value stewardship lands - scientific, ecological reserves - and my initial position if there was to be any timber extraction I would want the money brought back into Vote Conservation so that they could show there was a net conservation benefit."

Dr Smith said he needed to know what options the Government had.

Officials will report on how big the areas involved are, the land classification and the legal parameters about the use of that timber.

MPs, mayor's views

Green MP Eugenie Sage said the inevitable heavy machinery and road-building needed to log the timber would destroy the environment, and the timber should be left to rot naturally.

Ms Sage said there was only a market of any size for rimu timber for items such as furniture and chopping boards, which was being met by the rimu available from private land.

However, West Coast Tasman MP Damien O'Connor said the most valuable timber could be harvested by helicopter, echoing Dr Smith who also said helicopters could be used.

Mr O'Connor said the Government needed to fast track permits to allow private landowners to harvest their windblown timber.

He said that would allow the Westland District Council to use the revenue from the sale of windblown timber on its land to pay off debt.

But Mr O'Connor said there might not be enough capacity in sawmills to handle the logs.

"The simplest way would be to use helicopter logging; cut off the high value logs; extract them out but there are still issues of who has the capability to cut those reasonably quickly."

Buller mayor Garry Howard said all storm-damaged logs, especially native hardwoods, needed to be retained and processed as much as possible within the region.

He said that should apply to the national parks on the West Coast, something that would require an act of Parliament.

Mr Howard said allowing the milling of timber from the Kahurangi, Paparoa and Westland parks had the potential to help the Department of Conservation fund its conservation programmes.

He said this was a unique opportunity to create jobs and therefore reap an economic benefit from the storm.

Trees should decompose - McSweeney

A West Coast eco-tourism operator said leaving windfall trees to rot was not a waste.

Gerry McSweeney, whose business is in South Westland, said the windfall of trees on Department of Conservation land benefitted the forest.

"These big windfall catastrophes will result in a lot of forest decomposition, a lot of insects, a tremendous sort of bonanza for all the birds and it's not as if this wood's going to waste. It's going to be used to nourish the future forests."

There was ample wood coming from private land and the native windfall would flood the market.