Modelling forests and Muddling politics.

    Thursday 23 March 2000.


Press Release by Brian Swale, Christchurch

A quiet Christchurch campus auditorium was jolted with a wake-up call on Thursday. World-renowned forest growth modeller, Dr Graham Whyte concluded a masterly talk on forests, modelling and management with an impassioned lambasting of politicians who, he believes, are not numerate, and seemingly of questionable integrity.

Describing how growth modelling is just one component in the management system, and promoting integration and balance among stock-taking, monitoring, modelling, planning and managing all relevant components, Dr Whyte covered modelling of beech forests in detail.

Dr Whyte added that "NZ politicians seemed not to understand numbers - they were not numerate, and the rest of us need to adapt to this."

Eventually he came to the now-infamous quote of Minister of Forests Pete Hodgson - (HANSARD B09-3, December 22 1999), referring to the computer model of West Coast beech forest dynamics on which Labour relied for decision-making.

"This example of untutored use of an inappropriate model illustrated the dangers inherent in using ill-adapted tools and unrepresentative data inputs to make unjustified claims about forest management proposals," reported Mr Swale.

"The results of playing with this particular model do not represent the biological behaviour of beech, and the implicit inferences about management were indefensibly wrong." he added. "The TWC intentions were for adaptive management, and modelling for a maximum of 35 years."

"The model available on the ínet allowed no management change in response to any unacceptable trends, and ran for a 400 year cycle."

"No data did or ever could materialise which are good enough to permit unerring prediction for 400 years without periodic revision and adaptation."

Dr Whyte noted that forest ecosystem sustainability was not a new concept.

"There are centuries old living examples of sustainable indigenous management in Europe, despite the contrary assertions of opponents."

"A myth perpetuated by Labour since 1987, is that there can be a clear split between production and preservation, and that multiple use of all our forests is unworkable."

"Muddled thinking, that could have been avoided with some homework and consultation with committed professionals." said Dr Whyte.

He continued "Many examples, both in New Zealand in the past, and elsewhere in the world right now, show the fallacy of these assertions."

Suggesting that managers need to add the ability to deal with politicians to their suite of skills, Dr Whyte was unable to offer practical advice on how a profession, a vocation, and businesses that depend on carefully gathered facts, sensitive models and caring long-term management, could operate in a climate of muddled thinking that can change every three years.

He was equally scathing about the deliberate dishonouring of the West Coast Accord by Labour and the disregard for the major stakeholders, West Coasters.

Brian Swale represents a group of people promoting sustainable management of beech forests for fine timber and enhanced conservation.

He can be contacted at e-mail bj@caverock.net.nz