9. Deforestation in New Zealand.
The authoress, who spent six months in New Zealand, gives, in three articles, her views regarding the wholesale destruction of forest in the Dominion, and the methods pursued. The observations were made chiefly from the most frequented tourist routes. The following extracts show the scope of the articles :—
“The results of deforestation everywhere to be witnessed in the country between Auckland and the Bluff were such as to create an impression as painful as it was indelible. Past and present evidences of the effect of the destruction haunt me everywhere, from the barren plains and barren hills of the older ‘settled’ districts in the one case, to the miles of blackened tree-stumps, even on much-advertised tourist routes, in the other.” “These results are caused by the requirements of the settlers; for, unfortunately, they and devastating bushfires always go hand-in-hand. Once the fire has done its worst, English grass-seed is immediately sown, and cattle and horses are turned loose amongst the standing and prostrate logs, which are left to rot on the ground. A little homestead will be run up amidst the débris, a couple of rectangular paddocks will be, perhaps, cleared of the roots of the trees and enclosed by a hedge of Pinus pinaster (erroneously called P. insignis) and Cupressus macrocarpus respectively as windscreens, and the result is a typical New Zealand landscape. To have the pinc without the cupressus would be wanting in imagination and taste.” “The remaining forest land is generally Government property, and is leased in ‘sections,’ which, when large areas are opened up, are put up to auction. This land may be covered with the most splendid forest-growth, such as the Waimarina Bush, now being cut up by the Main Trunk Railway from Wellington to Auckland,
which has been purposely run through it.” “The region in question, like the greater portion of the North Island, is of a soapstone or ‘pappa’ formation, which weathers into a clammy clay.” “Cleared in the usual wasteful fashion, …. not only are the uninteresting contours of the country exposed to view, but the forest is replaced by a weedy upgrowth of Fuchsia excorticata and Aristotelia racemosa, mixed with any and every species of the heterogeneous mass of herbaceous and shrubby aliens, which are ever ready to invade fresh areas, turning a natural garden into a vegetative slum.” “The disreputable Maori who idled our canoe up-stream voiced, parrot-like, the cry of the country, ‘Too much bush; too few children.’ ‘Bush’ is there to be burnt, and the sooner the better. It is a most contemptuous and unfortunate term.”
Speaking of the South Island, after explaining the effect of the Dividing Range on the rainfall and distribution of forest, the authoress writes, “The mixed forest of the West Coast is too soaked with moisture to burn easily …. but all the best trees are being rapidly cut out by sawmills.” “The natural forest-growth, if worked on scientific principles, would form a magnificent asset to the resources of any country. As it, is, in such mixed forest, each kind of tree is limited in numbers, and, when cut without regard to age, only the old and aborted specimens are lett standing, and the forest is, in consequence, unable to regenerate itself. The resulting thinning alters the prevailing conditions as to light, moisture, and wind, and allows the ingress of rabbits, which devour all young vegetation, and so prepare the way for an army of alien herbaceous plants and shrubs, including blackberries, sweetbriar, gorse, and broom, which luxuriate in the virgin soil. Fungal diseases attack the weakened indigenous trees, which will have no further chance to re-establish themselves; so that all commercial value in wood, which forms one of New Zealand's exports and its chief scenic charm, goes into the pocket of the first man who comes to enjoy the unrestricted exploitation of the virgin forest.” “Once through the [Otira] Gorge, we enter the country of dry rainless winds and tussock plains beyond, between bare tussock hills, yellow even in the beginning of December; all sheep-runs, the grass burnt off every year, and rabbits ubiquitous. Here one shrub, Discaria toumatou, or ‘wild Irishman,’ holds its own. It is a veritable mass of thorns (arrested branches), with inconspicuous green leaves and white flowers. It grows singly in the wide river-beds, on sheltered mountain-slopes, and in the plains. Otherwise not a tree is visible—that would mean fewer sheep to the acre; and the unfortunate, animals in the blaze of the sun find such shelter as they may under the Discaria. It is a familiar sight to see them crowding under what can be only shade in their imagination, and it makes one question whether it is really advantageous, or is merely an atavistic idea inherited from ancestors accustomed to more luxuriant conditions. These places must all have been wooded at some time not far distant. Nothing else could account for the extraordinary paucity of herbaceous plants, of which Craspedia uniflora is one of the few which occurs in any quantity on the plains.”
Speaking of the Mackenzie country, it is stated, “These plains, thanks to the agency of man, run up to the foot of Mount Cook, and, as far as I could make out, they constitute the subalpine meadows of New Zealand ecologists.” “It is a three-days drive from Mount Cook to Lake Wanaka, and for the whole way there is no native tree to be seen. I was told there was ‘bush’ in the back country, so that it must once have existed in the front; but this country of huge sheep-runs, where every station has to keep a gang of rabbiters, tells its own tale. Deer have been also introduced, and are increasing to a large extent, much to the disgust of the runholders.” “At Lake Wanaka …. there was the same baneful deforestation, sheep-run bareness, and poverty of soil. The mountains in the background show up green, for the runs have not got so far back yet.”
A brief description is given of the Clinton and Arthur Valleys, and of their suitability as a sanctuary for the indigenous flora and fauna. The articles conclude as follows :—
“Isolated reserves here and there are of no value from a physiographical, economic, or rainfall point of view. In a naturally wooded country like New Zealand the question should be treated as a whole on some recognized plan drawn up by competent forest officials who have been trained not only in the great schools of Nancy, Munich, and the magnificent economic forests of France and Germany, but also in the management of virgin forest, which under scientific guidance has achieved such a success in India.” “India is in the happy position of being able to treat questions from a scientific rather than a party standpoint. In New Zealand the Government alone can act in the matter, as for economic reasons the private owner is helpless and the mere occupier indifferent. Labour costs 10s. a day, and is difficult to obtain at that; therefore private enterprise is discouraged.”