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Walking access in plantation forests poses risks

22 Dec 2004

The NZ Forest Owners Association says the government's walking access proposals are an improvement on earlier suggestions, but major concerns still remain.

"Walking access along riverbanks in a production forest is generally not practical, because of the presence of dense vegetation. Alternative routes, as envisaged in the government's proposals, often pose major risks," says president Peter Berg.

"Plantation forests are potentially dangerous working environments, where all employees are trained in occupational safety procedures. Having untrained members of the public walking in or near operational areas is unacceptable.

"There will also be an increased bio-security and fire risk."

He says the common law right of private landholders to exclude persons from their properties lies at the heart of the issue.

"We take the strongest possible exception to any assertion that land owners manage their land for the public good. Land owners primarily invest in property so they can control it for their private benefit. This applies as much to a city home owner as it does to a forester or farmer.

"In the case of a forest this is not only a matter of principle; there is the practical on-the-ground reality that having people walking through a plantation will pose very real constraints on operations.

"When operating machinery, felling trees or conducting pest control operations within, say, 100 metres of a walkway you would have to assume that walkers were present at all times. Managing this risk will be costly and pose big practical difficulties.

"Forest operating codes of practice forbid forestry workers approaching within two tree lengths of felling operations, roads are physically closed off where such operations are being undertaken and, if fire danger rises, all operations may cease and access to the forest is totally closed off.

"Similarly, during strong winds there are dangers from falling branches and debris. The industry has put a lot of time into establishing safe working conditions for its people and the possibility of a different code applying for other visitors is not tenable."

Mr Berg says visibility is also very limited in forestry situations, which increases the risks for visitors and workers alike.

"If the government seeks to grant the public the right to walk through private property, particularly through a plantation forest, this access right should be negotiated and appropriate compensation paid."

He says many forest owners allow individuals and groups access to forests for tramping, hunting, fishing, motor sports and other recreational pursuits, on a case by case basis.

"By controlling access, the owners can warn visitors to avoid operational areas and notify them of potential hazards. You also want to avoid having people hunting in areas where there may be trampers or forest workers.

"Unless the new access regime is negotiated and managed very carefully, forest owners may be forced to modify existing access arrangements because of the risks associated with having approved visitors and 'freedom' walkers in a plantation at the same time.

"Any legal attempt to force land owners to provide access is likely to lead to a loss of goodwill between forest owners and existing recreational users. Many gates which were previously open will be locked."

[ends]

For more information, please contact:
Peter Berg, tel 09 309 5049 or 021 421 291