New Zealand // The West Coast //

Westland’s endangered forest


If gold and coal built the West Coast’s foundations, the timber industry supported the structure. Ever since timber was felled for sluicing flumes and pit props, Coasters relied on the seemingly limitless forests for their livelihood. Many miners became loggers, felling trees which
take from three hundred to six hundred years to mature and which, according to fossil records of pollen, have been around for 100 million years.

Few expressed any concern for the plight of Westland’s magnificent stands of beech and podocarp until the 1970s, when environmental groups rallied around a campaign to save the Maruia Valley, east of R eefton, which became a touchstone for forest conservation. I t wasn’t until the 1986 West Coast Accord between the government, local authorities, conservationists and the timber industry that some sort of truce prevailed. I n the 1980s and 1990s most of the forests were selectively logged, often using helicopters to pluck out the mature trees without destroying those nearby. While it preserved the appearance of the forest, this was little comfort for New Zealand’s endangered birds – particularly kaka, kakariki (yellow-crowned parakeet), morepork (native owl) and rifleman – and long-tailed bats, all of which nest in holes in older trees.In 1999, Labour leader Helen Clark honoured her election pledge and banned the logging of beech forests by the state-owned Timberlands company. Precious West Coast jobs were lost and the government stepped in with the $100 million fund, which helped restart the local economy. Thousands still felt betrayed in this traditionally Labour-voting part of the world, but a resurgent farming sector, higher property prices and increased tourism gave Clark breathing space, until the economic downturn and 2008 general election, when she lost government to the National Party’s John Key. All logging of native forest on public land throughout New Zealand has remained banned since 2000.

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