Saving Some Forest

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Memoir  |  House: Footsteps, yarns and little fibs
A small but significant area of forest was doomed!

Submitted: October 06, 2016

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Submitted: October 06, 2016



Early settlers found New Zealand’s Podocarp forest to be a valuable timber resource and trees such as Rimu, Miro, Matai, Kahikatea, and Totara were milled into excellent timber for furniture and housing. These day on the East coast of the South Island, there are but a few remaining examples of Podocarp forest.

Herbert Forest was established on land that was uneconomical for farming with gorse and bracken fern competing with forage grasses. The land was very suitable for growing Radiata Pine, Douglas Fir and Corsican Pine, but the challenge was land preparation - an expensive undertaking because in those days most of the work was manual, however gradually a forest did spring up.

I was sent to the forest because the Officer in Charge was hospitalized with cancer, so although I was not quite qualified, three months short of receiving my Ranger Certificate, I became acting OiC. I was in charge of a bunch of capable men, half of them not long from retirement and the rest had a good ten years on me. They knew more than me, but despite a few challenges, we got on fine.

There was a three hundred acre enclave of gorse that was purchased later than the rest of the forest because the owner was tardy at selling and I was charged with the responsibility of converting it into sustainable pine forest without burning the rest of the forest down, there was another challenge!

To the West of this enclave, is a deep gulley, which is the catchment area of the Glenburnie creek. The gulley is beautifully clad in native bush with Podocarps in the deeper parts and Manuka/Kanuka on the fringes. Some of it is second growth because it was logged over one hundred and fifty years ago.

George, the District Forester, a pommy chap, looked on the map, and saw that if some wide tongues of indigenous bush were removed, the forest line would be ‘nice and straight’. So I was instructed to remove those tongues by establishing the line and above it, chipping notches in the tree trunks and applying a chemical salt called ammate. So without actually removing the standing trees, we could under-plant with Douglas Fir, a shade tolerant species.

I took my prismatic compass and a couple of workers with slashers to establish the line and my team was ready with axes to cut the notches. Access under the forest was easy because there was a population of pigs and they kept the floor clean, allowing us to have a good look at the bush to be poisoned. It was obvious to us that the bush had been logged previously because there were rotting stumps and a pit where sawing had been carried out. It was also obvious that the early loggers had taken only merchantable size trees and left trees that were smaller, pole stage or seedlings, so by now these had grown into magnificent specimens! Straight away I became determined that this bush was not to be harmed!

Bert and Gib were the guys I had chosen to carry out the poisoning work and they weren’t keen on the job either. I told them that I would go to a recent neighbor, Allan-the-member-of-parliament but Bert counseled that they had just broken me in as a boss, and the crew didn’t want to lose me for someone worse! Actually he knew and I knew that it would not do my career any good if I went to communicate with Allan. So Bert wrote him a letter, complaining that the forest, a government owned forest, was poisoning indigenous trees. Allan took the letter to the minister of forests who referred the matter back to my district office, and they must have thought it a hot potato, because word filtered back that the forest was in fact not poisoning indigenous trees! Public servants eh?

A fuming District Ranger, Keith arrived at my office door ready to chew my ear, suspicious of my friendship with Allan, apparently Bert’s name had not been mentioned. I reacted passively, which took the wind out of his angry sails.

‘Come and see at the patch of native bush,’ I invited, ‘there are magnificent Rimu, Miro and Totara down there, not to mention huge Kanuka!’

I drove up there while Keith rambled on about big mouths and local, interfering members of parliament. When we arrived I marched off quickly giving Keith no choice but to follow me and even though his feet were not as sure as mine, he too admired the trees when he finally caught up. After all Keith was a tree man of some renown!

‘I would like to preserve these trees, Keith.’ I told him, ‘It would be a shame to poison them and leave them to rot. Besides, if you look at the area we are gaining for production, it’s quite small.’

‘Well what do you propose?’ Keith asked, seriously. At least he was listening.

‘I would like to make a walking track for schools and Joe Public to use. A sort of learning tool.’ I suggested.

It was difficult to read what Keith was thinking, so I continued. ‘There are not many Podocarps left on the whole of the East coast north of Dunedin.’

‘It looks steepish to me,’ said Keith, and I regretted marching him so quickly, ‘but if you flag the route, I will make a decision.’ No indication of when, so I took the bull by the horns.

‘I’ll take you back to headquarters and you can have lunch with Albert.’ I said. ‘I will flag a proposed route and bring you back up after lunch.’

Flagging the proposed track location was not at all difficult because previously I had a good look at the area, so using white survey cloth, I marked what I thought was a good track. When Keith came back and walked it with me and he happily approved of the route and the idea there and then! It was a first because there had been a ‘locked gate policy’ until then.

The very next day I had Bert and Gib start forming the track as per my instruction of suitability for my aged mother to negotiate – low, long steps with flat footbridges crossing the small water channels. The pair did an excellent job, as I expected they would.

This track was the first of a network of public walking tracks within the forest and were used extensively for education and recreation before the government sold off the asset.

Unfortunately the tracks fell into disrepair under a new regime and they excluded the general public.

There is a happier note however, the forest changed hands yet again and the new owners are good corporate citizens who support the use of the tracks and the local tramping club now maintains them to a high standard.

Some fifty years after it was formed, the Podocarp Loop track presents visitors with a stunning example of pre-European forest which is now under full and legal protection.



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