25 Jun 2015

The world's being 'flooded with our kauri'

6:23 am on 25 June 2015

Far North conservation groups are hoping to hear today that the Auditor General will conduct an inquiry into the swamp kauri trade.

The extraction of ancient kauri.

The extraction of ancient kauri. Photo: Ancientwood

Forest and Bird, and the Northland Environmental Protection Society have complained that the Ministry for Primary Industries is allowing timber exports that are illegal under the Forests Act.

Four weeks ago the conservation groups asked for an investigation into the way the swamp kauri industry was being regulated by MPI.

They have accused MPI of letting exporters get around the law, by defining items like carved logs and rough sawn table tops as finished objects, and long planks as stump timber.

They also point to what they say are deficiencies in MPI export records.

But Forest and Bird's Far North advocate, Dean Baigent-Mercer, said the Government had its hands over its ears on the subject of swamp kauri mining, and only an independent inquiry could sort it out.

"Because all we've seen over the past week is the Government kind of shuffling around, trying to make excuses, kind of looking a little bit embarrassed, but we still haven't got to the nitty-gritty of the whole issue, " he said.

The conservation groups said one of the most glaring examples of legally dubious exports, concerned five big logs shipped to China from Auckland in 2013.

Digger unearthing ancient kauri.

Digger unearthing ancient kauri. Photo: RNZ / Lois Williams

Photographs of the logs being loaded into a ship appeared on the website of the shipping company, Oceanic Navigation.

MPI said the logs were stumps, defined in the Forests Act as the root section, and part of the trunk no longer than its diameter.

But an Auckland Maritime Union official, Craig Harrison, who has examined the photos, said he would assess the logs as much bigger than that, going by the size of the port's MAFI trolleys beneath them.

"They are massive logs ...I'd say they'd be nine to 12 metres long. It looks like they have a two-and-a-half to three metre diameter. It's a fair size," he said.

MPI said the Oceanic consignment was inspected by Asure Quality, and it insisted the giant hunks of timber were stumps.

It had yet to respond to questions about a US website offering seven metre swamp kauri planks.

The Ancientwood website showing two slabs of kauri.

Image from US website Ancientwood showing two slabs of kauri Photo: Ancientwood

The conservationists said not even the widest kauri in New Zealand, Te Matua Ngahere, could produce planks of that size and they must have come from logs, which cannot be lawfully exported, whole or sawn.

Fiona Furrell, of the Northland Environmental Protection Society, said the High Court had found in the past that the intention of the Forests Act was to protect a New Zealand resource, and New Zealand jobs.

She said with MPI as gatekeeper - the country had lost out on both fronts.

"It looks like the world's flooded with our kauri," she said. They would have far more overseas than we would have in New Zealand."

Mrs Furrell said the only way to get good, wet swamp kauri was from wet land.

"Most of the wetlands in Northland have been destroyed and they're attacking the last few left."

Fiona Furrell said MPI should not be left to advise on ways it could improve its own performance, as its Minister Nathan Guy had suggested, and her group was pinning its hopes for an independent inquiry on the Auditor General's response.

MPI says its processes ARE robust and the responsibility for protecting indigenous wetlands rests with the Northland Regional Council.

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