Deforestation in New Zealand

Deforestation in New Zealand

Deforestation in New Zealand has been a contentious environmental issue in the past, but native forests, colloquially called "the bush", now have legal protection.


Pre-human forest cover

Since New Zealand was the last major landmass to be settled by humans, anthropological changes are easier to study than in countries with a longer human history. A picture of the vegetation cover has been built up through the use of archeological and fossil remains, especially pollen grains from old forests. Some of the most ancient intact forests in the world are found in New Zealand, examples being on Stewart Island and Ulva Island.

Māori settlement

Prior to the Maori arrival, New Zealand was almost entirely forested, besides high alpine regions and those areas affected by volcanism. Throughout the Maori’s exclusive inhabitance, the environment took an expensive toll. Approximately 50% of the original forest cover had been deforested before European contact.[1]

The Māori people began settling the country about 800 years ago and reduced the amount of forest cover with the use of fire. By 1840, when Europeans were a small part of the population, the forest cover had been reduced from 85% down to 56%.[2]

European settlement

When the first Europeans arrived, in 1772, there was still thick, dense forest cover. The Early explorers such as Cook and Banks described the land as “immense woods, lofty trees and the finest timber” [3] Mainly timber was used for repairs to sailing ships until the 19th Century. With the colony of New South Wales rapidly expanding, the need for timber from New Zealand began to rise. Timber exports, mainly kauri, became a major industry for New Zealand. There are records from the 1840s, stating that 50 to 100 ships could be tied to shore in Kaipara Harbor and be filled with lumber from giant floating booms that can hold 10,000 logs at a time.[4] Besides trees as a form of lumber, many pioneers found the kauri trees valuable for the gum it produced to make varnish and linoleum mainly in the north island near Auckland. The colonist used unconventional methods to gather this gum from living trees. Stripping these trees and the ground around them resulted in the destruction of the land, rendering it unusable for agriculture (Wynn pg. 108). With out the trees to hold the soil and debris to the land, water flowed freely causing flooding to be inevitable, which occurred often. As most of New Zealand was covered with thick bush, the slash and burn technique was used often for land set aside for farming in these areas. This practice was not carried out very responsibly due to the complexity of controlling a fire and in turn resulted in enormous amounts of unintentional land catching fire [3] This led to thousand of acres accidentally burned and destroyed.

After the Treaty of Waitangi was signed in 1840, settlers begin a rapid expansion. Deforestation continued for many uses including clearing land for farming and gardens and wood for construction. An estimated 50,000 acres (200 km2) land was also lost due to human caused forest fires within only a few days. The rapid levels of deforestation can be seen when looking at sawmill production. There were only six sawmills in 1843, twelve in 1847, fifteen in 1855 and ninety-three in 1868, a growth of more than fifteen times in twelve years.[3] More access to different areas through the newly laid railroad system led to many sawmilling settlements becoming railroad stops. With the production of many more sawmills, job availability increased. These factors helped add to the exponential deforestation rate countrywide. With time, the mills also became more productive and more abundant, perpetuating deforestation.

In the 20th Century the timber had deforested approximately 14 million hectares, or half of the pre-European forest cover.[clarification needed]

Recent history

By the 1970s the environmental movement started direct action to protect forests. Notable direct action campaigns were at Pureora Forest with Stephen King and the West Coast with the Native Forest Action Council and Native Forest Action. All native forest logging on public land ended in 2000 when the Labour led government upheld its election promise to stop the logging.

Forest protection

Many legal avenues now exist to protect native forests. The Resource Management Act, a major Act of Parliament that was passed in 1991, affords any natural environment a level of legal protection through the resource consent process. The logging of native trees is governed by a permit system administered by the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MAF) and must be shown to be sustainable.[5]

MAF also formulates policy on national and international illegal logging.[6]

See also


  1. ^
  2. ^ The State of New Zealand's Environment 1997. Wellington: Ministry for the Environment. 1997. pp. 8.30. ISBN 0-478-09000-5. 
  3. ^ a b c Wynn, G. ‘Destruction under the guise of improvement: The forest, 1840-1920’, in Pawson and Brooking, (eds), Environmental History of New Zealand, (2002), 100-118.
  4. ^
  5. ^ "MAF Indigenous Forestry Unit". Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry. Retrieved 2009-06-11. 
  6. ^ "New Zealand policy to address illegal logging and associated trade". Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry. Retrieved 2009-06-11. 

External links

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • New Zealand Robin — South Island Robin (Petroica australis australis) Conservation status …   Wikipedia

  • New Zealand — New Zealander. /zee leuhnd/ a country in the S Pacific, SE of Australia, consisting of North Island, South Island, and adjacent small islands: a member of the Commonwealth of Nations. 3,587,275; 103,416 sq. mi. (267,845 sq. km). Cap.: Wellington …   Universalium

  • New Zealand — This article is about the country. For other uses, see New Zealand (disambiguation). NZ redirects here. For other uses, see NZ (disambiguation). New Zealand Aotearoa …   Wikipedia

  • New Zealand Emissions Trading Scheme — See also: Climate change in New Zealand The New Zealand Emissions Trading Scheme (NZ ETS) is a national all sectors all greenhouse gases all free allocation uncapped emissions trading scheme. The NZ ETS was first legislated in September 2008 by… …   Wikipedia

  • New Zealand — <p></p> <p></p> Introduction ::New Zealand <p></p> Background: <p></p> The Polynesian Maori reached New Zealand in about A.D. 800. In 1840, their chieftains entered into a compact with Britain, the… …   The World Factbook

  • Biodiversity of New Zealand — The Leiopelmatidae are one of the many families endemic to New Zealand. The biodiversity of New Zealand, a large Pacific archipelago, is one of the most unusual on Earth, due to its long isolation from other continental landmasses. Its affinities …   Wikipedia

  • Birds of New Zealand — The Kea (Nestor notabilis) is one of the few alpine parrots and one of the most intelligent birds in the world.[citation needed] Being an island nation with a history of long isolation and having no land mammals apart from bats, the …   Wikipedia

  • Conservation in New Zealand — The Black Robin. Saving the bird was a major conservation success story. Conservation in New Zealand has a history associated with both Māori and Europeans. Both groups of people caused a loss of species and both amended their behaviour after… …   Wikipedia

  • History of New Zealand — The history of New Zealand dates back at least 700 years to when it was discovered and settled by Polynesians, who developed a distinct Māori culture centred on kinship links and land. The first European explorer to discover New Zealand was Abel… …   Wikipedia

  • Geography of New Zealand — The geography of New Zealand encompasses two main islands (called the North and South Islands in English, Te Ika a Maui and Te Wai Pounamu in Māori) and a number of smaller islands, located near the centre of the water hemisphere. New Zealand… …   Wikipedia