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Episode 17: Forest Giants

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July 2  on TV ONE:

Forest Giants

Many New Zealanders associate the term logging with harvesting pine plantations but, in the backblocks of Taranaki, a resourceful couple in their late 60s is logging a patch of native trees.

In 1995, Ross and Heather Vivian bought 600 hectares covered in native bush 60 kilometres inland from Eltham in southeastern Taranaki.

Ross had hunted in the area 40 years earlier and his initial idea was to use the block for recreational hunting. There were no tracks when Ross and Heather first moved on to the land and Heather says her first few trips to the property weren't promising. The farm was treacherous in the wet and, initially, she wanted Ross to put the place back on the market.

A short time later, however, the couple was approached with an offer to log rimu trees on the block.  They turned it down but started researching the viability of logging the trees themselves.

Historically, native timber such as rimu, matai and kauri was widely used as building material in New Zealand with large tracts of bush cut down by teams of men using axes, pit-saws and bullocks.

Until the early 1990s, owners of private forests were entitled to fell trees on their land. In 1993, however, the Forests Act was amended and controls were placed on milling and exporting timber from indigenous forests.

Today, private forest owners who want to log their own native trees must have a sustainable forestry management permit or have filed a sustainable forestry management plan with the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MAF).

Around 50,000 hectares of indigenous forest is currently managed under nearly 50 management plans and about 400 permits are registered at any one time.

MAF requirements around logging native timber are stringent. Management plans must include an inventory of the mature trees on owners' land and measurements and GPS coordinates for those with potential to be logged.

The Vivian's portable mill is registered with MAF and the authority also keeps a record of which trees are milled and carries out audits.

Ross and Heather are permitted to cut down two or three trees a year and required to plant four native tree seedlings for each one felled.

Milling is done on site and they use a helicopter to transport pallets of stacked and graded timber about five kilometers to the road.

Ross and Heather mostly process rimu which can fetch up to $2500 a cubic metre.  The couple's timber is sent south to Wanganui where it is turned into furniture.

What doesn't make the grade isn't wasted - Heather is a keen wood turner and crafts off-cut blocks on her lathe at home.

Ross and Vivian's farm is a lot more accessible than it was in the early days. Over the years, they have spent hours tidying up farm tracks using two vintage bulldozers they own.  Ross has also added extra rear tyres to the vehicles they use on the property to make it safer to travel in and out of the block. 

For more information about sustainable management of indigenous forests:


Richard Williams

Field sound
Don Paulin

Offline editor
Owen Ferrier-Kerr

Online editor
Alex Wright

Sound mixer
Ian Leslie

Sound editor
Don Paulin

Network executive
Jude Callen

Consultant producer
Frank Torley

Associate producer
Dan Henry

Production manager
Robyn Best

Jerome Cvitanovich

Julian O'Brien