The Future of our Forests

Wednesday 23 Jun 2021

Native forest once covered most of Aotearoa in a great green swathe, heaving with biodiversity. Two-thirds fell to fire, axe and bulldozer during a botanical Blitzkrieg the like of which the world has never seen. Today’s forest remnants are confined largely to areas of conservation land, but legislation can’t protect against pathogens, pests and invasive weeds that do not respect park boundaries. What does the future hold for our forests?

It’s late at night and a cold rain is falling when I reach Pureora Forest Park, a ragged patchwork of forest remnants that lies between Lake Taupo and the King Country. The carpark—a circle of gravel flanked by thick bush—is deserted. I brew a coffee, then roll up my sleeping bag inside a slab of foam, tie the bundle with rope and walk intothe forest. There is a steady, heavy dripping from trees that are taller than my torch beam can shine. Pureora is said to be one of the finest examples of podocarp rainforest in the world; about the only part of that description I can fully appreciate at the moment is rain.

Out of the darkness looms a wooden tower, four storeys high. It’s solidly built, the work of the local Lions Club; a philanthropic gesture to help people appreciate this place. I climb four steep flights of steps to the top, and haul up my gear. There is just enough floor space to unroll my bedding, and the roof extends out far enough to keep things dry. I wriggle into my bag and listen to the calls of night birds and the whirring of insects that fly around my head. I flick my torch back on. I’m being strafed by huhu beetles, or some of their relatives. Their wings sound like the propellers of model aeroplanes, and I feel a tiny breeze on my face as they pass. It is an enchanting way to be lulled to sleep.

Nature’s wake-up call next morning is more strident. Flocks of kaka shred the dawn with their shrieks, and the heavy whopwhop-whop wingbeats of kereru whistle through the canopy. Cackling parakeets add their calls to the mix. From the tower, I look down on the perfect green umbrellas of tree ferns and up into the crown of a neighbouring rimu, its branches laden with perching plants. Broadleaves slick with rain glisten an almost iridescent green.

This is historic—I’m tempted to say hallowed—ground. In 1978, Pureora was on the chopping block. The Forest Service intended to finish what had begun decades earlier: the logging of all the merchantable timber here—matai, rimu, totara, kahikatea, the pick of this country’s lowland podocarp trees. This despite the fact that, a year earlier, a 341,160-signature petition had been presented to Parliament, demanding an end to native-forest logging and legal recognition of native forests.

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Source: Kennedy Warne, New Zealand Geographic

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