Kit Richards lectures at the School of Forestry, refuting the preservationist ethics of NFA, the NZ Greens, and Forest and Bird. He demonstrates that ecological, sustainable forest management, as developed by Timberlands West Coast delivered not only what New Zealand needs, also shows the way for the World to meet Agenda 21 and Rio agreements. The preservationist model is exposed as non- functional and unrealistic in the New Zealand context, inevitably resulting impoverished biodiversity and impoverished human society.

Can Populist Conservation sustain advances in World Sustainability?

By Kit Richards, 9 June 2000          
Recorded and transcribed by Brian Swale.

Note: to make this whole document easier to read,
I have inserted headings that Kit did not make explicit in his talk.
They are there to break up the expanse of text into more digestible chunks.


Hello everyone, and welcome to this special session on the indigenous forestry.

I'm Nora Devoe, Senior lecturer in indigenous forestry at the School of Forestry, and I will be moderating this final session, in our special series on management of indigenous forests.

We heard first on conservation biology from Dr David Norton, who talked to us about how wildlife and sustainable management can be compatible, and then we heard from Eugenie Sage, from Forest and Bird, who talked to us about points where management and conservation are not compatible, and in this session we will hear another point of view, addressing the way forward.

Our speaker today is Mr Kit Richards, who for the last ten years has been the General Manager (Planning) for Timberlands West Coast.

Like most foresters, Kit entered the profession because of his love of the outdoors. He applied to the then training sessions for National Parks and for Forestry and made the tough choice to go with forestry. He went through the New Zealand Ranger School. Early days with the New Zealand Forest Service saw him working in ecological surveys in the High Country, working on planting, hut and track making and the like.

He then came to the School of Forestry where he completed the Bachelor of Forest Science.

Following the degree, I think perhaps led more by his interests in tramping than anything else, he took a job on the West Coast; where he has remained ever since.

With the New Zealand Forest Service on the West Coast he rose from Assistant District Forester to Senior Forester for the West Coast Conservancy, in which capacity he was one of five people who negotiated the New Zealand Forest Accord. ( I think Dr Devoe means the West Coast Accord) After the Accord was signed at the end of 1987, Kit was part of the establishment team for the Forestry Corporation on the West Coast, then Harvest Planning Manager, and then Coordinator of Assets on the West Coast. From 1990 to 2000 he served as the General Manager for Timberlands West Coast.

He is now a Consultant working in the areas of Forestry and Environmental Management, and Strategic Planning.

Kit will speak for no more than 45 minutes, which will be followed by questions and comments.

His title is:

"Can Populist Conservation sustain advances in World Sustainability"

Kit Richards begins ..

Thank you Nora, and I am certainly pleased to be here.

Probably quite lucky to even get in the door, if one recalls some of the rather common statements and politicised statements that have come about this issue in recent times. Being somewhat of a rather feral nature, a guerilla - of a military sort - and being probably fairly inbred at the same time.

But this whole issue, or at least part of this issue, is about people talking past, and talking through each other.

And I want to engage that debate in a slightly different level. But it is to get through it and past, or to maintain a through it and past stance, we deal with pre-conceptions, and we have to deal with some of those.

So let's get personal.

Can I talk about these things? I think Nora has indicated I actually have rather strong interests in the outdoors, and always have done. I planted, tramped and rafted a very large proportion of the land on both sides of the Divide, between Nelson and south of Mount Cook.

I'm some sort of red-necked feral; well, maybe. I've never played rugby in my life, don't particularly like beer, but I've got a chainsaw - not one of those little wee Christchurch ones, but a BIG bastard, and I fell a big rimu tree with it every now and again. I've also built my own furniture, solid rimu furniture, I'm proud of it, it's part of my culture.

One of those really corporate Darth Vaders. Certainly, my recent history would indicate that, if you listen to certain Truths and Lies that have been published. Yes, I've spent a lot of time in Wellington, talking to politicians, talking to business-people. I've also shared rice on the floor with some of the poorest people in the world, slept on louse-ridden beds, and had children offered for purchase because their mothers were starving.

So I've seen under-privileged.

And cost to the environment - just couldn't give a stuff - just interested in making a profit and cutting it all down. Of course; that's what I'm about - that's what forestry's about!

But you see, when I fly to Auckland I don't look down on New Zealand and think this is it's clean and green face.

I look out and see a rubbish-tip.

Eroding hills everywhere, pathetic little remnants of indigenous forest dotted up and down the North Island hill country.

And I look down on a river called the Waikato - because I fly into Auckland - and I know that it comes from a lake which has clean water , and I know that lakes are one of the best sediment traps that exist, and yet what on earth is that sewer that sits below me, ex Waikato.

That, is how I view New Zealand.

And I can talk about intrinsic values, because that

is my habitat. That's only ten minutes from where I live.

For most of you people "out there > > ", is your habitat.

So I do have some rights to talk about it.


So, what is sustainability? Well, let's try some home-growns.

Where is New Zealand at it.

"Nothing humans are associated with is sustainable." One quote.

"I also know from studies that the word "sustainable" can not be applied to the logging proposed. "Sustainable" can only occur at primitive, subsistence, level. "

Or, this from the PM. "First-world nations don't log their native forest. "

Well, I'm sorry - they do. The USA does, Canada does, all of Europe does, Scandinavia does. They do because they consume resources - about 1.4 billion tons of them per annum in actual fact.

And try this one:- "Sustainability is for the third world. If other countries want to cut down their forests that's their stupidity".

I wonder if I changed the words a little bit. "It's for the third world. If other countries want to sell their young women, that's their stupidity." That'd cause a few ripples through the audience!

So, what have we got out of this?

What: do these elite people seriously believe that they are not using forests or natural resources? They live in a high-rise society where their consumption requirements are magically materialised without oil or forest or grassland, soil or water.

If we look at what the globe thinks about this, we can look to some of the things that this country has signed up to.

Agenda 21, which talks about forest resources and forest land. To be sustainably managed to meet social, economic, cultural and spiritual needs for present and future generations. These needs for services and products such as wood, water, food, fodder, medicines, space for life and so on. We signed that.

We can also look to the Rio Principles, where Agenda 21 originated from.
People are entitled to a healthy and productive life and timely information. Development must not undermine future and environmental needs. Sounds pretty logical.

But environmental issues; and it also (says a big hassle) (voice unclear), with the participation of all concerned citizens. Sustainable development requires scientific understanding and the sharing of knowledge.

And the Convention on Biodiversity, in a recent paper under that general umbrella, conservation and sustainable use methods should emphasise participation of local communities. Regional approaches should be devised. Restoration including the elimination of alien species considered, conservation outside protected areas.

All stuff - a lot of it we've heard quoted, much of it we hear from other parts of those documents which talk about the need to protect and to conserve and to be active in conservation by (agreed?) (voice unclear) means; but few of us, do we hear the other components of those agreements that I have just talked about. And they do have a great deal of similarity with the RMA that we have in this country.

So why did we develop the RMA (New Zealand's Resource Management Act, 1991 (Ed.)), and why did we sign those sorts of principles? Did we do it because we didn't want to feel "left out"?

The World signed it because "sustainability" was about how to use resources. They signed up something because they recognised something that New Zealand hadn't entirely come to grips with yet.

They recognised that humans are consumers.

Humans, at their most basic biological level, are nothing more, than very efficient consumers. We have evolved through the application of our brains, technology, and in particular the (instant?), to promote ourselves to the top of the food-chain. To a point where we have capacity to modify the world and have an ability to consume well beyond the basic requirements of food and shelter. Our wants are improved by styles, to become our needs.

And we are all part of it; we are all irrevocably intertwined with that.

And preservation is part of that process; and ecological, sustainable management - is the other part.

If we don't succeed in the other part, there is no future.

Change is inevitable in ecological processes. They are dynamic.

We also have to recognise that it is about managing, for future resources - sustainable management - and about managing rates of change. It's not about "no change"; there is no such thing as "no change".

Ecology doesn't recognise that.

And in this very simplified graph we can see a stylised concept of what is the norm for New Zealand indigenous forest. Long periods with constant small change, background trends which most of us probably will never recognise as it is going on continually, and occasional major disturbances - in the West Coast, particularly from earthquakes.

That's just the norm.

So what's all this - so we can't - Gondwanaland, as such, is lost. The question is, can we manage our resources, with - or without - preservation as part of the tools; but with - and without, use of those resources at the same time, to see ourselves into the future.

And that's where that starts to have some relevance to whether populist conservation, and the issue of the West Coast forests, are relevant to the big picture.

When we look at how we have performed over the last few years we all know that populist conservation was an incredibly important tool to making major steps of change in New Zealand, particularly about twenty years ago - fifteen to twenty years ago.

Sustainability in New Zealand, right now.

But, how have we performed since? Locally, we know, only with moderate success, but that's hardly surprising; most of the world's population is trying to step up - from third-world developing stages, to aspire to come, even within a fraction of the bounds of consumption, that you and I enjoy. And if we listened, as little as a month ago, to the Minister for the Environment, we might have thought that New Zealand was actually on a completely different planet.

Apparently we had clean air - clean water, our biodiversity was well protected, and we were all good caring and nurturing, rural, and environmentally conscious people.

Bullshit !!

New Zealand is at this time a dirty disfunctional ecological mess.

We have, as a report; a comprehensive report - just a year or two back - through our agriculture, an equivalent of a population of 60 million humans defecating without sewerage - on the land. Our storm run-off - our nitrogen - leads to most of our urban streams being polluted with a lot more than just mud - heavy metals, copper, lead, hydrocarbons.

We have very high per capita waste generation. We are climbing right up there with the USA and Australia in terms of fossil fuel use. And it would be interesting, perhaps, to know how much tourism, at 600,000 litres of aviation fuel consumed for each plane-load of Europeans that comes to this country, just how much that is contributing to our increases.

The problem is, in that almost any parameter that we care to measure, the trends are adverse.

So the problem perhaps, is that, we have been missing in New Zealand, the target. Because our biodiversity is continuing to decline, it's not because we haven't got protected areas or habitat, it's that where we have protected - where we have got it - much of it - in one area. It's not spread evenly throughout the system. And where we have got those habitats protected, we haven't been able to invest - we haven't been willing to invest - in the control.

Part of that reason, is that we haven't yet made most of those fundamental connections (in my belief), about where we sit, in New Zealand. And we are not a rural society, we are an urban society. And we are consuming energy, we are developing waste, we are creating waste streams, we are fragmenting it heavily through intensive land use, and urban expansion.

  • Consume energy
  • Urbanisation and expansion
  • High density
  • High input
  • Disposable - disposable income
  • High mitigation costs

And the problem in a country like New Zealand - which is not paying it's way, very well, as we should all be well aware, after the last ten years - is that all those things to do with high density, create high impact. And if we are not creating, along with that high impact, a disposable income, to spend on the mitigation, we go backwards.

And that's where we are sitting, in New Zealand, right now.

The West Coast Accord as a basis for Timberlands planning of sustainable forest management.

So, looking further, at the relevance of the debate, what was particularly interesting and special about what was happening, on the West Coast?

Firstly, it was in one small area of New Zealand's domestic consumption. We were trying to, and succeeding to, get our backyard in order. As a model it was quite relevant, because it provided practical, ethical and philosophical lessons in models which could be built upon. The first step about that model was that it arose from a strategy, a long-term strategy, expressly designed to deliver New Zealand and a dependent regional economy, from one of the most patently unsustainable land abuses, to one of the most benign (uses - Ed.) that currently was being practiced in this country.

And it did all that within seven years.

And the significance of that strategy that it is no different from what we are trying to do in agriculture, urban waste or CO2. But the difference is, that in almost every other example, we're failing.

In this case the transition was working. The targets, whether by timetable, or for performance, were being met.

There are other elements to that strategy that are important.

Firstly, it involved the establishment of a controlling framework - an agreed controlling framework, called an Accord. Which it was implicitly based on a (words obscure), and on the trust and fidelity for a long-term vision.

It was about investing the process and structure at arm's length from political involvement, because politicians operate - not at three-year cycles - but at 1.5 - year cycles. They're worrying about the next election within eighteen months.

And finally, at the highest level, it involved a discipline at the Government level, that stakeholders who had bought into the process could not simply opt out when it suited. The Government would not bail out their disagreements, they needed to sort them out themselves.

And if all that sounds quite familiar, and quite similar to the sorts of things contained in Agenda 21 and Rio, and the RMA, then you're absolutely right. That's exactly what it was all about.

So what else about this model?

Well, if you listened to the pre-election campaign, some parties were all about looking for low environmental impact. About a sustainable future. About a fairer society. About high value. About niche value. About organics. About small scale. About all those things.

The sustainable log harvest amounts to
1 tree per hectare, every 4 years, on average.

Trees carefully felled away from other trees
and regeneration.

  • And here we had something that was ultra-low impact.
  • It was high value - the products from it were between two and three times the equivalent value from radiata (Pinus radiata D.Don. (Ed.)).
  • It was efficient. It was based on the ecological nature of the land it was actually being performed upon. It wasn't foreign species - it was the species adapted specifically to the region.
  • It was also economically efficient. For every hectare involved it would produce, at total economic turnover, about ten times the value of tourism, which is often touted as being the saviour.
  • It had more economies of processing, which means that it could equally be managed in small communities like the West Coast, relevant to it's competitor, radiata, which has scales two to five times in size to make it competitive on the international market.
  • And it is low in energy demand.
  • And it has high employment - about two and a half times the equivalent for radiata.
  • It was a niche industry - not a commodity industry. It was insulated from those cycles.
  • It was an organic industry - with no fertilisers and the only pesticides required being those to kill (exotic mammalian (Ed.)) pests and predators.
  • It also potentially had a biodiversity benefit. Because it has been, and the Government is trying to respond to that, today or last night, estimated that it would require ten dollars a hectare a year; about $50 million every year - not just every five years - specifically to halt the decline in biodiversity on Crown land alone. And it's the same at the managed forests at Okarito and Saltwater; annual control, which was simply a marginal costing exercise because all the other infrastructure was there, was costing just $3.50 a hectare per year. Bird numbers for all the main species have trended upwards by a minimum of 20 percent.
And it was a niche industry that involved very high multipliers, in value and employment, as we moved up the chain into furniture.

It was also, very rarely in New Zealand, something that had huge buy-in from the community.

Helped along by such things as ISO 1041, environmental management certification; something that very few companies, yet, in New Zealand, have achieved; and moving towards Forest Stewardship Council Certification, a level which we were very confident would be achieved.

But there are other - what this was all about - it was a system that could also be easily monitored. And what it was about, was the commercial application of technology. Those of you who have followed the Reith lectures
( (Ed.)) on sustainability -
John Browne of Shell, recently stated "that in order to sustain what we value, we have to be prepared to change, and the sort of change that business promotes is the application of technical advances to meet human needs."

And that's exactly what the West Coast model was about.

Sustainability as we are doing it now.

But there are other costs as well.

If we are to abandon that model, we should consider some of the other issues.

Do we even understand our basic sustainability problem in New Zealand?   And I've already suggested we don't.

Have we approved our sustainability performance?

And what messages do we seek about our ability to transform our other sectors of unsustainable economic production and our capacity in the world.

Let's look at New Zealand as an economic and environmental model.

Consider the following:-
New Zealand is currently sitting quite uncomfortably at a decision point, because in our primary production all basic commodities are broadly facing unparallelled pressures of economic and climatic volatility, long run decline in real product value, ( remember these are still the main-stays of New Zealand's economy ), whether you like to believe it or not, and they are facing increasing and basic environmental challenges - nutrients, soil, water, and so on. The economies of scale are getting more and more out of kilter with those required to be competitive in the world.

And there are some responses we can take, to beat that.

The first model is "single system intensification". That's what we do extremely well in agriculture.

Very rarely, we can try the exact opposite. De-intensification. And that is what we were trying on the West Coast.

There's a third model. I call it "23rd century shifting cultivation". It's what we do when model 1 fails. And New Zealand is into this in quite a big way. Does it really happen?

Well, let's think of some broad trends.

In the 20's and 30's we cleared and burned and grazed our way to the 60's on wool and mutton. The bits that didn't stand the economic pressure, went into trees. And the best land moved into dairy. That process has gone through another cycle. The land that went into trees, much of that is no longer economic - under trees, and we are moving into the higher grades of land. The bits left after that - they may well just be left to ro- - be left untended - they will revert but will they be looked after.

And the dairy intensification - continues. Harder and harder: faster and faster.

To keep up, under model 1, our technology, innovation, labour, education, social infrastructural costs, all those other economic settings, must be on a par with or better than the rest of the world.

A similar parallel might be drawn in terms of the use of social and infrastructural capital; hence the obvious trend that has already happened through the country, where many of our manufactured lines of goods have moved off-shore. We can't compete, in production, and employment, in many areas. But as the developed and demanding, largely urban society, we want, and continue to consume equal, and even more than we did before.

And if we can't get it at the cost we want, here, we simply import it from elsewhere.

Transferring our environmental costs to other nations, while potentially reducing growth and other benefits, internally. I reflect that onto the statements on what sustainability is all about.

So, we can't address our situation, unless we understand the problem.

So, what about performance?

Have we demonstrated that we can do it better than the rest of the world?

Well, objective measurement won't support that thesis. We signed a thing called the Montreal Process a few years ago, it sets to devise and then measure the performance of a nation, across all its forests, in terms of meeting defined sustainability criteria.

And in that process, in a visit, some four or five years ago, they looked at our plantations, and said "Well managed, very well done, good from a computer."

They looked at our indigenous production forests being managed sustainably, the few that were, and said "Excellent - no problem."

And they looked at our Conservation Estate, and said "Not a hope". "You've got problems! ".

And that did show up, and it does show up.

We don't need to measure it, we already know. We know that if DOC (Department of Conservation, manages non-production forest and other land, prevented by law from carrying out normal forest management, usually starved of money by government (Ed.)) , through no problem of their own, were asked to meet the basic requirements of the Resource Management Act, in terms of sustainability, they'd fail the test.

The one hundred and twenty million (dollars) that was spent on buying out the West Coast, ( check here and here, and here (Ed.)) could, if invested at 10 percent, have effectively funded for eternity, the magic extra ten dollars per hectare per year (for exotic mammal predator and pest extermination (Ed.)) for about - for over 20 percent of the total indigenous conservation estate. Last night (Government funding announcement (Ed.)) , we had a just fraction of that, and a promise that we'll keep trying to deliver it, for five years.

What we've really shown is that we don't really have any very long-term plans at all. And the few that we do have, we have trouble following.

So finally, what messages have we sent, because we have accepted one of the messages that has got through, that we do have a biodiversity problem. It's at last starting to sink through. It's also recognised that the biodiversity problem is as much a private land problem as a public land problem.

Because it is the private land that has the little bits that are the only hope of joining them together to make bigger bits, ever again, to re-distribute some of our lost biodiversity.

And the message is, that in, that the Biodiversity Strategy, and the Bio-What? are seeking promote within the community, is that we must seek buy-in from those private people. We must ask for their co-operation. And in fact, as my experience has been, you'll certainly get it, if you treat those people with some degree of responsibility. If they ask them for the responsibility and help them, they'll give it. And the difference is that they are there, every day, looking at that bit of bush, they're there on the spot, and they can do it more effectively and more cheaply, than anyone else, if you only empower them to do it.

And what are the messages?

Well, here are some of the messages from the rest of the decision.

"Natural systems cannot be managed, ecologically sustainably - only un-natural or modified systems are sustainable."       Rather strange !!

"The externalisation, the export of the consumption effects - as long as it is not visible; we are not accountable, it's OK. In other words, we'll buy other people's things without much concern.

"Sustainability is a rural problem. Its achievement to the Urban Right.

Yet if you talk to the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, he will tell you that his concern is that most of New Zealand's bigger issues right now, are the urban environment.

"Perception and option values of the remote majority, outweigh the tangible values of resource dependent users.

"Mis-information, and abuse of science, are legitimate democratic processes.

Some people, perhaps until the Government had to pay out $120 million, and is starting to try to cough up with some other real values, so long as the economy keeps moving ahead, many people thought, and still think,
""Conservation is a free public good" ... other people pay for it.

"Disintegrative, or oppositional science seems to be politically endorsed - because it provides simple Black and White. Life apparently is not about grey, and sustainable resource use is about "Yes" and "No", not about risk management. Apparently every resource we use, everything we do in the world, is that simple Black and White.
(check here) There are no risks, apparently.

And Governments, it would appear, need not display the discipline imposed by statutory and accountability processes that they would request of equivalent applications from the private sector, and they apparently do not believe that they need to do comprehensive impact analysis, as they would expect from the private sector.

Those are some of the messages that arise out of these recent events.

And perhaps the worst situation that arises from that, is they encourage, and they send a message "Better to get in, make a buck quickly, and get out, than be in there for the long term".

And that's a very very compelling, suitable solution for some of the commerce that still exists.

But, can we do better?

Well I think; and I'm here to answer the plea, that we must do better. If we are going to be truly innovative, if we are going to (have our place - words unclear (Ed.)) clean and green, we cannot afford to (keep our waste - unclear (Ed.)) and keep on making 180 tacks as we try to move forward in the changing winds. We can't afford to rely on the perceptions of the wind, when we have the knowledge and the technology to get us a piece of the real time - in available jargon. Team New Zealand didn't win, doing that. And neither will New Zealand.

Yes, we do need Populist Conservation, that's the only way we can get through to the vast number of people who are too busy in their daily lives to otherwise give it much of a thought.

And we have a very distinct choice, in New Zealand.

We cannot afford Populist Conservation that simply denigrates, the political ethos;
that "There are people out there who want it stopped, we don't care what the arguments are, we intend to get their votes".

We've got to do a little better than that, and the choice for us, and a clear choice, between Populist Conservation that is Solution Seeking, and that which is Problem Creating.

We have to be very careful, that what we have achieved here in New Zealand, is not simply eco-colonialism, that it is not simply shifting cultivation, and it is not simply an inadequacy of our democratic process. If those things applied, then populist conservation will indeed lead us to an unsustainable outcome. And it will be no model that New Zealand can take to the rest of the World, nor hold its head up high.

Thank you very much.

Contact me here, at

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