National is to introduce urgent legislation possibly today. The use of urgency is often controversial and should normally only be permitted where the measure has budgetary implications, where there is a discovered defect in legislation which needs to be corrected or where there is otherwise good reason to change the law quickly.
But this bill is deeply political and clearly designed for campaign purposes. It will have limited effect in the South Island only and is obviously an attempt to drive a wedge between ordinary working people and environmental movements. It could be called the “Deseat Damian O’Connor and Denigrate the Greens Act 2014”. Because what is proposed is to allow the commercial use of felled trees in conservation areas on the West Coast.
The announcement said:
Special legislation is to be passed by Parliament to enable the recovery of high value native timber blown over in Cyclone Ita on West Coast public conservation land, Dr Nick Smith announced today.
“We need to take a pragmatic approach and enable the timber to be recovered where it can be done so safely and with minimal environmental impact. This initiative will provide welcome jobs and economic opportunities for the West Coast at a difficult time, and will provide a financial return to DOC that can be reinvested in conservation work,” Dr Smith says.
Smith claims that a law change is needed because the current Conservation Act makes no provision for timber recovery. This is not surprising. Conservation areas should be precisely that. They should be areas where natural processes occur and commercial extraction of trees is banned. I am struggling to understand how the removal of these trees can occur without damage to the neighbouring area occurring.
Smith claims that urgency is required because the beech timber will soon deteriorate with sap stain and borer. But you have to question why it needs to be passed so quickly. Under the bill recovery of timber is allowed until July 1, 2019 so obviously the deterioration is not immediate. It makes you wonder why a normal legislative time frame cannot be followed.
The profits from the sale of the timber are intended to go to DOC. It is a strange world where a conservation organisation needs to sell the very thing that it is trying to conserve so that its activities can be financed.
Forest and Bird have started a campaign allowing people to MPs and media from links on their website. The reasons for their opposition is stated as follows:
It’s easy to think of these logs as waste, but these trees have an important ecological function – they nurture seedlings, they create a home for insects and critters – even native fish, and they help to create a nutrient-rich soil. In a healthy forest, a dead tree is just as important as a living one.
Windfall is a natural process – we should leave nature to do what it does best.
The bill is obviously an attempt to turn West Coasters against any party that stands up for environmental protection. If it is passed the forests will be weakened as biomass and important habitats for other creatures are removed. While there may be a case for limited extraction the bill should go to a select committee so that this can be explored.
Smith’s title should be changed to Minister for Deconservation. Shame on him.