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Forest nearing point of COLLAPSE

The imminent collapse of the Raukumara forest because of pests and erosion has caught the attention of Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage.

Mrs Sage last weekend travelled to Oronui Hut in Raukumara Forest Park where she met with Te Whanau a Apanui chief executive Rikirangi Gage, Te Runanganui o Ngati Porou deputy chairman Rei Kohere, and Department of Conservation (DoC) biodiversity ranger Graeme Atkins to see firsthand the impact pests and erosion have on the area.

Mrs Sage said her responsibility as minister was to ensure resources were available so DoC could work with Ngati Porou and Te Whanau a Apanui to figure out how to protect the Raukumara Forest and restore it back to health.

Mr Atkins has been working in the Raukumara Range for 25 years and has witnessed some changes to the environment.

“Most of them have been bad for the health of the forest. The spread of deer and their impacts have been catastrophic. Erosion is quite common.

“In the early ‘70s you couldn’t count how many kiwi you hear. Now you never hear them.

“Ten to 20 years ago the deer in the Raukumara were fat. Now they are skin and bone.

“If it was a healthy area we wouldn’t be able to see in the tree canopy.”

Mr Atkins said it would take two people 10 hours to check two pest monitoring lines. Now they could do three lines.

“In the early ‘80s deer started moving through the area and caused a loss of biodiversity.

A 150-metre walk around the forest shows obvious damage done by deer and possum.

Mr Kohere said the most shocking discovery was the extent of pest abuse of the flora, the huge gashes in the landscape where erosion had occurred, and how the deer had exacerbated it.

He hoped realistic and concrete steps to remedy the situation would be put in place.

“The way things are in the Raukumara forest, it’s approaching a point of collapse.

“It’s in a bad way and at this point it’s not irretrievable, but the situation is desperate and urgent action is needed.

“We need to know what’s going on in the forest so we know what’s needed to remedy it.

“I know the Minister will do her best. We will be relying on the Crown to help us as iwi and other stakeholders do what is required to save Raukumara and ourselves,” he says.

Mr Atkins hoped Raukumara got the pest control it desperately needed.

“I hope whanau and hapu from both sides of the ranges will be involved in the process.”

Mrs Sage said she had never before seen trees ring-barked because of the browsing of deer.

Ring-barking or girdling is the removal of a strip of bark from around the circumference of a branch or trunk.

“It highlights the huge impact the deer are having on these forests. They are in a state that has been described as collapse.

“On steep slopes there’s significant risk of erosion and landslides. The slips we have seen due to the impact of heavy browsing gives a dramatic image of the impact of deer.

“Te Papa Atawhai (Department of Conservation) is working with Te Whanau a Apanui, Ngati Porou and other iwi to ensure we develop a plan for Raukumara which is based on a co-designed approach,” Mrs Sage said.

There is a roadshow planned by iwi and DoC for people to discuss the current state of the Raukumara forest and develop an effective and sustainable pest management plan.

The roadshow starts on Friday, March 1, at Hinerupe Marae in Te Araroa, continues the next day at Rauru Marae in Ruatoria and ends on the Sunday at Te Rawheoro in Tolaga Bay.

SIGNIFICANT EXPERIENCE: The group walk along the Oronui Stream in the Raukumara Forest Park. Picture by Matai O’Connor
DEVASTATED BY DEER: Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage is shocked by the ringbarking caused by deer to pate trees in the Raukumara forest. From left, Chief executive of Te Whanau a Apanui Rikirangi Gage, Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage, deputy chairman of Te Runanganui o Ngati Porou Rei Kohere and DoC biodiversity ranger Graeme Atkins. Picture by Matai O’Connor