Around 1000 CE, before humans arrived in New Zealand, forest covered more than 80% of the land. The only areas without tall forests were the upper slopes of high mountains and the driest regions of Central Otago. When Māori arrived, about 1250–1300 CE, they burnt large tracts of forest, mainly on the coasts and eastern sides of the two main islands. By the time European settlement began, around 1840, some 6.7 million hectares of forest had been destroyed and replaced by short grassland, shrubland and fern land. Between 1840 and 2000, another 8 million hectares was cleared, mostly lowland or easily accessible conifer–broadleaf forest.
By 2000 New Zealand had only 6.2 million hectares of native forest, most on mountainous land and dominated by southern beech.
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