Private native forests
Stopping timber production from publicly owned forests put more pressure on privately owned forests, including those on Māori land. In 1993 the Forests Act 1949 was amended to stop unsustainable logging of native forest. Since then, a policy called sustainable management has been applied to privately owned native forests. Only single trees or small groups can be felled. However, not everyone cooperates and problems arise when owners decide to clearfell trees on their land.
New logging techniques
Since the early 1980s, new logging techniques have been used to support sustainable management. Helicopters remove single trees, avoiding damage to the surrounding forest. Patch or ‘coupe’ clearfelling respects the natural mosaic growth pattern of rimu forest by taking out small patches of mature trees. Small bush mills using chainsaws are set up in the forest. These process single trees, and salvage tree stumps and crowns left behind by early logging operations. Timber is taken out of the forest by motorbikes with trailers, without harming other trees. But when the state-owned company Timberlands West Coast used such methods in beech forest in the 1990s, some conservationists claimed they threatened ecosystems.
Timber from abroad
As well as using its own timber resources, New Zealand has always imported timber. From the 1870s, American timber such as Oregon pine was imported to meet building demands. Now that New Zealand native woods are difficult to obtain, indigenous timbers from other countries are imported for furniture, flooring and other products.
Managing public native forests
In the 2000s, argument still rages about how publicly owned native forests should be managed. Some people want forestry techniques, including selective felling, to be used in some Department of Conservation reserves. They claim that this will improve the health of the forests, and help control animal and plant pests.
Most conservationists would reject any logging in reserves. They agree, however, that pests are a problem, and that more resources should be given to managing native forests.
A forgotten industry?
A tiny quantity of native timber is still produced, and an even smaller amount is exported. However, most of New Zealand’s timber now comes from exotic plantations – mainly pine. The scarcity of native timber has led to kauri, rimu and other woods being recycled for furniture and crafts.
The traces of the once-thriving native timber industry have nearly disappeared. Remains include abandoned equipment and the ruins of some sawmills, kauri dams and tramways. Museums such as the Kauri Museum at Matakohe in Northland and the Putaruru Timber Museum help preserve New Zealand’s native timber industry heritage. They tell the stories of past generations who worked hard to make a living, getting wood from the trees.