Beech forests are used for recreation, commercial hunting, sphagnum-moss harvesting, beekeeping (using honeydew) and tourist ventures. Because beeches grow on slopes, they help reduce erosion and minimise the effects of flash floods.
Although beech species are resilient, forests are threatened by over-use and introduced animal pests.
Sustainable timber production
In the early 20th century beech forest was recognised as a potential sustainable, high-quality timber resource. Since then, foresters have proposed a number of management schemes, but because of low timber prices and conservation groups’ opposition to logging native trees, there has been no large-scale, sustainable beech forestry.
Logging on public land
In the 1970s and 1980s, logging of publicly owned beech forests in Westland and Nelson was opposed by conservationists. In 1986, conservation groups, the West Coast timber industry and the New Zealand government entered into an agreement known as the West Coast Accord. This allowed for the sustainable management of 130,000 hectares of beech forest to provide chipwood and sawlogs. The government stopped the scheme in 1999. A year later beech logging on public lands stopped when all West Coast native forest became conservation land.
Logging on private land
In Southland, pristine beech–rimu forest on Māori-owned SILNA land (granted under the South Island Landless Natives Act 1906) was at risk of being logged until 1996 legislation protected this Waitutu block as if it were a national park. The agreement gave the land owners alternative cutting rights of 11,582 hectares of state-owned beech forest in western Southland already being managed for production. As nominally private forests, they are now managed according to the Forests Amendment Act 1993. This operation was awarded Smart Wood/Forest Stewardship Council certification in 2004 – possibly the first managed Australasian native forest to achieve this stringent international environmental accreditation.
Life’s a beech
Two of the Department of Conservation’s six ‘mainland islands’ are beech forest. At Lake Rotoiti in Nelson Lakes National Park, pest control is helping to restore honeydew and protect kākā and other nectar-feeding birds. Birds no longer living in the area, such as kiwi, have been re-introduced. At the Hurunui River, North Canterbury, conservation staff are working to protect and replenish yellowheads and orange-fronted parakeets.
Beech forestry today
Today’s small but potentially valuable native forest industry is based on timber logged from private land under strict conditions that seek to balance commercial use and intrinsic natural value. Production of beech timber on private land has declined steadily from nearly 12,000 cubic metres in 2002 to about 6,750 cubic metres in 2005. Most of this comes from Southland, the rest from small operations in Nelson and Marlborough and on the West Coast.