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NZ conservationists take kauri back to court

Northland conservationists who oppose the export of swamp kauri are heading back to court for another round with the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI). Source: Radio New Zealand

The High Court last year dismissed allegations by the Northland Environmental Protection Society (NEPS) that the ministry was allowing unlawful exports of the ancient timber. But the society is still worried that swamp kauri is going out of the country when it should not be.

The group said it believed the Forests Act had been interpreted and applied too loosely in regard to the exports and it was preparing to challenge the High Court findings next month, in the Court of Appeal.

The society said American timber retailer Ancientwoods had posted videos on YouTube promoting swamp kauri slabs that appeared to be recent imports – but MPI records showed the last export consignment of sawn timber to the company, some 141 slabs of certified sawn stump wood, was in July 2015.

The Forests Act says a sawn plank for export can be as long as the diameter of the tree stump, at ground level. NEPS president Fiona Furrell said the Forests Act prohibited the export of dressed or rough-sawn kauri unless it came from the tree stump but some planks in the promotional video could not have come from stumps.

“They refer to them as planks recently exported … they have natural edges, one is 18-foot-long [5.48m] and less than 3- foot-wide [91cm] and that cannot be from a stump,” she said. “Our law says that sort of timber cannot leave the country.”

However, Nelson Parker – one of Northland’s most experienced swamp kauri processors – said stump slabs could easily be that long.

He said some trees were so huge he had been able to cut slabs up to 8m long.

“I’ve got slabs in my yard here that qualify because they come out of a huge log that was 13 metres in girth. They’re 7.5 metres long so to say they don’t exist is to say they don’t really understand what’s going on in the game,” Mr Parker said.

MPI said it had reviewed the videos and found no evidence of illegal exporting.

A spokesman said the fact that the company had posted more videos recently did not imply it had imported more timber recently, under the radar.

Every consignment of sawn swamp kauri timber was inspected before it left New Zealand, the spokesman said.

NEPS said container loads of kauri classed as finished products were not inspected, because the reporting regime for such items was voluntary for those exporters.

The definition of ‘finished’ includes long slabs described by exporters as table tops, which the High Court found were lawful exports, irrespective of whether they were repurposed or sold as joinery blanks by the foreign importers.