25 Jan 2017

Logging road for native forest sparks ire

9:25 am on 25 January 2017
Forest near Hahei, Coromandel Peninsula, New Zealand

About 8500 square metres of native vegetation, including 11 kauri trees, could be cleared for an access road through Coromandel State Forest Park. Photo: 123RF

The Department of Conservation plans to let a private road be built in the Coromandel State Forest Park to harvest logs, despite it turning down the proposal five years ago because it had "zero conservation benefit".

The move has raised the ire of some trampers and locals who say it is another example of the commercialisation of the conservation estate.

Waitaia Forestry wants to build a 1.74km road on the Waitaia Ridge, north of Whitianga, so it can harvest pine from a mature, thousand-acre forestry block it owns.

DOC declined the decision in 2011 saying the adverse environmental effects would be high.

Now it has approved the road in principle.

logging pine generic

Waitaia Forestry says the road would help the Project Kiwi conservation project and make it easier to set up traps to keep predators at bay. Photo: 123RF

The president of Federated Mountain Clubs of New Zealand, Peter Wilson, said it was extraordinary native trees on public land would be cut down for a road built for private profit.

He worried it could set a precedent for private use of the conservation estate.

"There's probably not always the degree of oversight on DOC concession applications as there should be and there is a strong degree of pressure across the country for more commercial activities on public conservation land."

Reports submitted by the applicant in the most recent application and assessed by DOC show about 8500 square metres of regenerating native vegetation - including 11 kauri trees, one rata and three tanekaha - might be required to be removed for the road.

It noted there was a risk sediment could enter a local waterway affecting its freshwater value. There may be some adverse effects to fauna such as kiwi.

Whitianga local Brian Walsh has walked the proposed road route. He was amazed by the area.

"As an outdoors person, someone that's built trails and, you know, spent heaps of time in the forest throughout my life - it's appalling, really, that DOC would even consider it."

Waitaia Forestry said it would take about three years to harvest the block, but it has applied for a 30-year concession.

Peter Wilson worried that could be to allow access to private land that would be subdivided and developed in the future.

Warwick Wilson, who owns the forestry block and is a director of the company, said this would categorically not happen, although the road would access his property.

He founded the conservation trust Project Kiwi when he discovered the North Island brown kiwi on his land. He said the road would help the project.

There is an existing Waitaia Road the local council has not maintained. The groups opposed say the company should upgrade that for the logging instead.

Warwick Wilson said it was unsuitable for logging trucks. Property owners along the road would not want heavy vehicles running past their homes.

"A road through the forest actually is more of an asset to looking after the forest than it is a detriment, it makes it so much easier to get traplines organised to keep the predators at bay."

He wanted access to the road limited to his company's interests if it went ahead.

DOC refused to be interviewed while it was making a final decision, but said Waitaia Forestry provided new information in its second application.

The information meant a different set of conditions could be applied to address the effects of the road. The proposal was publicly notified.

If the road got the green light, Waitaia would pay an annual concession to DOC, but the amount was not disclosed.

A hearing has been held. A decision is expected in the next two months.

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