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Keeping New Zealand Green - Our forests and their future, By Elizabeth Orr

Wink Sutton, New Zealand Tree Grower November 2017.

A review by Wink Sutton.

In my opinion Alexander (Pat) Entrican, Director General of the NZ Forest Service from 1939 to 1961, was one of the several visionaries who have contributed to the success of the New Zealand forestry sector. Entrican’s daughter, Mrs Elizabeth Orr, has just published a balanced assessment of Entrican’s contribution, Keeping New Zealand Green. Our forests – and their future. Her assessment is based on published material as well as her access to the A R Entrican papers in the Alexander Turnbull Library, a collection which has only recently become available to the general public. Mrs Orr complimented her intensive research with interviews with former NZ Forest Service employees, most of whom were involved with Entrican.

Mrs. Orr’s assessment concentrated on two aspects of Entrican’s major contributions – the Tasman newsprint sawmill at Kawerau and indigenous forest management – which she suggests are the hitherto largely untold stories of the Forest Service. I would have liked to have seen greater coverage of Entrican’s other major contributions, especially staff training of which I and many others were beneficiaries, and wood use − eventually achieving the acceptance of knotty pine when wood users were used to clear or near clear indigenous timber.

Farm foresters might have preferred a longer section on their contribution to forestry, but Mrs Orr has included an account of the support given to this group by both her father and his successor as Director-General, Lindsay Poole. The valuable co-operation between farm foresters and the Forest Research Institute over trials of non-radiata species such as Acacia melanoxylon is also described. Interesting too is Canadian Leon McIntosh Ellis’s understanding in the early 1920s of the possibilities of farm forestry.

On the development of the newsprint mill at the Tasman Pulp and Paper at Kawerau there are full details in the book of this long saga. What I never understand was why there were so many problems at Kawerau but there appeared to be few problems with the NZ Forest Products pulp mill at Kinleith. The reason is almost certainly explained by the decision of the 1943 Labour Government to grant exclusive rights to NZ Forest Products for the manufacture of wrapping and writing paper as well as corrugating and liner board paper.

All these paper products are manufactured from chemical pulp. The major paper product left was newsprint but this required groundwood pulp. Newsprint traditionally was made from mechanical pulp that came from spruce, a non-resinous wood. Pines had not been used for mechanical pulp as pines contain resin and the resin clogs up paper making machines.

With chemical pulping, resin does not cause such problems. The newsprint mill of the Southland Paper Mill in Lufkin, Texas had developed a process for dealing with resin from southern pines in the manufacture of newsprint. It was particularly fortunate for the Kawerau pulp and paper mill that Entrican had developed a close working relationship with the president and management staff of the Southland Pulp Mill. Without help from the North American company it is very doubtful that newsprint could have been successfully made from radiata pine at that time. Entrican deserves much credit for establishing the relationship with the Southland Paper Mill.

The stumpage issue − 3d per cubic foot or the equivalent of 88 cents a cubic metre − is addressed by Mrs Orr. Although setting the stumpage was a political decision and not one of the Forest Service, Entrican seems to have accepted overall responsibility. Using historical costs the rate was calculated by a senior Forest Service officer, A P Thomson.

However, Entrican should not shoulder all the blame for what was a political decision. Although the flat stumpage ignored tree size and tree quality the stumpage was not a total disaster. Bob Fenton in a paper to 1963 FRI Symposium showed that if a flat stumpage of 3d a cubic foot was applied in 1963 to a radiata regime that simply maximised volume production and minimised costs, including maintenance costs but excluding most other overheads, the investment earned positive LEVs of five to six per cent. As well as the absence of price premiums for log size and quality the uniform stumpage can be also criticised because there was no adjustment for future inflation.

Entrican probably accepted the low stumpage rate because he believed the newsprint mill would be very profitable. Because the State had made a large investment in the plant the State would enjoy a high return. Because of capital overruns and poor management the mill was barely profitable. Possibly because of these low returns the government eventually sold its shareholding.

The other major theme addressed in Mrs Orr’s book is the management of indigenous forest. The greatest achievement of Entrican’s directorship was the comprehensive 10-year Forest Survey. Until this survey had been completed and analysed the Forest Service was unable to confidently state what area was covered by indigenous forest and the volume, by species, it contained.

Mrs Orr shows that from the beginning, the Forest Service’s policy for the State’s indigenous forests was their long-term perpetuation as a healthy sustainable multi-purpose forests. There was some selective logging at Whirinaki in the 1930s − before Entrican’s directorship. Mrs Orr presents a history of events during Entrican’s era and especially those following his retirement. The ill-fated beech scheme is also discussed. It is very doubtful that beech utilisation as proposed was ever a viable economic option but it heightened public awareness of indigenous forest management.

In the 1960s further selective harvesting trials were established in the Whirinaki forest. The objective of these trials has been grossly misrepresented. The trials and the practice of selective harvesting were portrayed as forest destruction and foresters were portrayed as forest destroyers. Such thinking was created by publicity seeking environmentalists, and spread by some politicians and by most of the media – television, as well as some newspapers, especially the weekly publication, Truth.

Environmentalists claim that the Whirinaki forest was ‘unique’ and should not be selectively harvested. Yet, after several years, they could rarely distinguish between those forest areas which had been selectively harvested and those which had not been harvested. Also, they could not distinguish between regeneration that had been planted and that which had occurred naturally. Locals took interested parties − including opponents, usually greenies − on a tour of operations. In 1979 alone there were 86 tours, many of them at weekends.

Both environmentalists and foresters want the same objective – a healthy sustainable forest. Events at Whirinaki clearly show that the opposition to selective harvesting appears to have little factual basis. It certainly was not as destructive as was claimed by opponents.

Mrs Orr presents a refreshingly new assessment of the contributions of the Forest Service, concentrating on the contributions of Alexander Entrican. Mrs Orr concludes with a plea for action now to preserve our fauna and their habitats.

The book is generally easy to read but I am sure someone who is not familiar with many of the names in the book may have problems following what actually happened. However, a list of key players in the pulp and paper story are given on page 73. The publication is a most valuable contribution to our forest history.


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