Story: Exotic forestry

Page 4. Harvesting the forests, 1950s–1980s

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By the 1950s the exotic plantation forests had matured and the harvest began. Both the state and private companies were involved in the felling and processing industries.

Pulp and paper mills

Two major pulp and paper mills came into operation in the mid-1950s. New Zealand Forest Products (which had been formed out of the bond-selling company New Zealand Perpetual Forests) built a sawmill and a pulp and paper mill at Kinleith, near Tokoroa, to process wood from its forests. At Kawerau, the Tasman Pulp and Paper mill was set up to use wood from the Kāingaroa State Forest and Bay of Plenty forests. Private building firm Fletcher Construction seized the opportunity to not only build the mill but become a part owner of the Tasman Pulp and Paper Company, with the government and other shareholders.

Timber towns

Timber towns, such as Kawerau, Murupara and Tokoroa, were established in the 1950s as harvesting and processing of the first forests began. The towns grew up initially to accommodate the families of men working in the logging industry or at the pulp and paper mills. Their populations included a high proportion of young Māori.

From Edinburgh to Tokoroa

New Zealand Forest Products helped develop the town of Tokoroa, which housed workers at the nearby Kinleith pulp and paper mill. The company opened subdivisions in the town and Kinleith’s Edinburgh-educated director, Sir David Henry, named many streets after places in Scotland, such as Kinross, Inveresk, St Andrews, Clyde, Tweed, Nevis and Lomond.

The second planting boom

A second phase of planting was initiated by the New Zealand Forest Service in 1959, with the goal of planting a further 485,600 hectares by 2000. The work was to be shared equally amongst the Forest Service and private growers.

Kāingaroa State Forest increased from 100,205 hectares in 1960 to 122,757 hectares by 1970, making it one of the largest plantation forests in the world.

Privately owned forests expanded from the 1970s, and increasingly high planting targets were set at a series of forestry development conferences. The Forest Service was often required to meet any regional shortfalls, leading to some forests being planted in locations where they would be difficult to harvest. Members of parliament in high-unemployment areas frequently lobbied for additional planting to create work in their electorates.

Priority planting regions agreed upon at the 1981 New Zealand Forestry Conference were Northland, Auckland, Rotorua, Gisborne, Hawke’s Bay, Nelson and Otago. This resulted in companies buying and holding land for future planting – in 1981 New Zealand Forest Products had 53,000 hectares, and a further 118,000 hectares was land banked by other companies. This created anxiety and conflict in some rural communities, where farmers were concerned about potential changes in land use.

Forest owners

By the 1980s, there were three large private owners:

  • New Zealand Forest Products was the major owner, with 152,000 hectares in 1981.
  • Fletcher Challenge, formed by Fletcher Construction following a merger in 1981, was the second largest. It had 73,000 hectares in 1982.
  • Carter Holt Harvey (CHH), formed in 1985 after a series of mergers between the companies started by early saw millers James Holt and Francis Carter and another manufacturing firm, was a growing player in the industry. Although its forest lands in New Zealand were much less extensive than the other two companies, CHH also had forestry interests in Australia and Chile.
How to cite this page:

Michael Roche, 'Exotic forestry - Harvesting the forests, 1950s–1980s', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 16 June 2024)

Story by Michael Roche, published 24 Nov 2008