Seeing swamp kauri mining for the first time this week was a shock. Dark peaty soil had been stripped of its plant cover and giant excavators were digging into wet, swampy soil to unearth logs that had been buried for thousands of years. The land was raw and cut by deep drains. Huge kauri logs and stumps, already wrenched from the soil dwarfed the contractors’ utes nearby. Mud everywhere. Another wetland gone.
Wetlands are like nature’s kidneys, trapping sediment and nutrients. They are also some of our most productive habitats providing an enormous food source for birds, fish and other wildlife, including threatened species like rare orchids and the Australasian bittern.
Wetlands act as sponges in the landscape helping to slow the flow of water off the land, reducing flooding and maintaining stream flows during drier times. In a changing climate, with more extreme storm and drought events, we should cherish wetlands’ role in regulating water flows.
Ninety per cent of New Zealand’s wetlands have been destroyed, often drained and converted to farm pasture. The Resource Management Act makes the preservation and protection of remaining wetlands a matter of national importance.
Yet in Northland, dozens of wetlands are being dug up and destroyed by swamp kauri miners with impunity and little obvious oversight or control by either local councils or the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI). This is despite dogged work by the Northland Environmental Protection Group and others to highlight ongoing breaches of the law.
On the edge of Lake Ngatu near Awanui, locals and Northland’s Bushland’s Trust have worked with the Department of Conservation to plant manuka, harakeke/flax and restore the lake’s margins . Historically water quality in the sandy bottomed lake has been high. Nearby swamp kauri mining has devastated what was once an extensive manuka, flax, and rush wetland. It’s now a desolate, muddy mess. With a stream connecting the wetland and Lake Ngatu, locals blame swamp mining for increasing sediment and nutrient levels which put at risk the native kuta rush, a wetland plant prized for weaving.
Changes to the Forests Act in 1993 specifically prohibited the export of swamp kauri logs. It only allows the export of stumps and finished and manufactured products to avoid the pressure on our much depleted and valuable native forests which an export market creates.
Yet swamp kauri is being exported by the container load. Logs and rough sawn slabs of ancient kauri are openly for sale on Chinese, US and Polish websites showing that the Government’s claims that the exports are legal are inaccurate.
Ancient swamp kauri is advertised internationally for thousands of dollars a cubic metre. The miners pay no royalty to the Crown and those exporting it stand to make huge profits.
The purpose of Part 3 of the Forests Act which controls indigenous timber logging and exports is “sustainable management”. Swamp kauri mining is anything but.
The Government and MPI’s incompetent implementation of the Forests Act is allowing a nineteenth century, frontier style gold rush and encouraging open flouting of the law.
Ancient swamp kauri is tens of thousands of years old. These buried trees shouldn’t be flogged off overseas as logs and stumps for a quick and dirty profit. Swamp kauri mining for export is destroying Northland’s remaining wetlands; it exports much needed jobs instead of adding value and creating distinctive wood products here in New Zealand and it fails to husband a valuable, scarce and finite resource. Once mined these ancient trees will be gone for good.
Nathan Guy needs to act and put a moratorium on further swamp kauri mining and exports. This would help Northland’s wetlands, and enable the Office of the Auditor General to investigate this destructive industry and MPI’s continued failure to enforce the law.