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Swamp Kauri: Sustainability and Resources

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Environmental Studies
Wordcount: 2709 words Published: 8th Feb 2020

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The Kauri forest is home to many trees and plants. This includes the taraire kohekohe, kirks pine and many more indigenous trees. Because kauri has lived so long, and their leaves are high in tannins, they adapt to the soil they live on and creates a specialized habitat such as gum lands. (Ministry of Primary Industry – Manatu Ahu Matua, n.d.)

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The Swamp Kauri and Kauri gum digging have historical cultural heritage value to the people in Northern NZ. Today this history has played a large role in development of local economies in the historic and recent past. Recently, Swamp kauri’s history contributes to regional tourism mainly in the local museums. However, there are some areas that still need further research to fully determine the historical heritage values. This includes research into Swamp kauri’s historic past, archaeological sites and also its standing structures related to history. There’s little documentation on the process of extracting the buried kauri tree, processing and milling methods required to maximize the importance of Swamp Kauri and how these have developed and changed in time. (Ministry of Primary Industry – Manatu Ahu Matua, n.d.)

Swamp Kauri and its history have educated many people in the region. It has the ability to extend our understanding of the environmental history of our nation and the pacific. The story of Swamp Kauri along with its cultural materials has been displayed in local museums today educating people about its importance.

The Kauri tree is a mixture of tangible and intangible values. It is believed that large old trees (Kauri Tree) should be treated with respect and admiration simply because they provide our people with symbolic and historical values as well as a tangible benefit. The tree itself consists of gum which can be used as a fire starter and for chewing after its mixed with another substance making it soft and Chewable. The tree trunk is also used for building valuable things like canoes, carving and building houses.

It is believed that the kauri tree holds social values such as the importance of the swamp to the regional and national New Zealand identity. It provides our people with symbolic and religious values. It was found that there were several cultural heritage values related to the swamp kauri especially to the history of gum digging and to the Maori people’s spiritual connections. There are other values that have associated with the swamp, like the finished timber products which are displayed at the local museums. (Kauri 2000, n.d.)

Swamp Kauri contains one of the expensive timbers in the world. The ancient wood has been buried and preserved for over 45 thousand years. The logs are being extracted by large excavators and are transported to the ‘Ancient Kauri Kingdom” where they are processed in a very friendly and ecological manner. Most of these woods are too big to be extracted so they are cut in half to make the process easier. Currently the extraction of the Kauri wood is a potential environment effect and therefore managed by the Resource management Act 1991. This means that rules are set out to control the entire process of extracting the Kauri from indigenous wetlands.

Sustainable Issues


Swamp Kauri is a natural resource of New Zealand. Known as a precious and wonderful timber, it is a hidden treasure that is limited but well sought after. Because of its age, Swamp Kauri contributes significantly to scientific research of ancient ecosystems, climate change and most importantly to help improve and understand the natural history of New Zealand. (MPI – Growing and Harvesting, 2018)

They are mostly found in the Northland region to as far south as Waikato. Swamp Kauri timber are milled form Kauri trees that have been buried and preserved in peat swamp between 800 to 60,000 years. Some grew for up to 2,000 years before they were felled. (MPI – Growing and Harvesting, 2018). As they age, the Kauri becomes heavy, making them slowly sink into the ground.

One of the sustainability issues relating to the production of kauri timber is the extraction from wetlands. For swamp kauri’s to be preserved for as long as they have, the ground around the trees needs to be damp enough for them to sink in and they cannot be heavily exposed to oxygen or it will be at risk of decomposition. (MPI – Indigenous Forestry Swamp Kauri, 2018). Also in 2010, the swamp kauri frenzy saw ‘the scant remains of Northland’s wetlands being drained, dug-over and destroyed by a flurry of excavation cashing in on the lucrative swamp kauri market’. (Newsroom – Hancock F, 2018).

With the careless handling when extracting kauri to meet the demand of offshore customers, it resulted in the wetlands being drained, exposing kauri to dry land and increased oxygen levels. Companies were not thinking ahead about the damage it was causing to the land, the kauris, its surroundings, and its survival. The damage done was taking a small part of New Zealand’s natural history away.

A clause in the Forests Act 1949 for finished items that was defined as something “without the need for further machining or other modification” was interpreted by the Ministry of Primary Industries (MPI) in a way which allowed thousands of swamp kauri to be extracted carelessly. A lot of harm was done for a quick buck to the Northland region of which is still one of the poorest regions today even after millions were made.

After a lengthy debate, protests and a few court cases following the kauri frenzy, the Supreme Court ruling was in favor of preserving the swamp kauri by tightening controls around the excavation, extraction and milling of swamp kauri. In New Zealand, extraction is regulated under the Resource Management Act 1991, giving effect through regional and district plans. (NZ Swamp Kauri, 2017). Once extracted, swamp kauri can only be milled at a registered sawmill with MPI under the Forests Act 1949.

All information on the maintenance and sustainability of swamp kauri is found on the MPI website. The MPI sets harvests levels, monitors and audits harvesting activity under sustainable management guidelines. They are also responsible for administering the Forests Act 1949. Part 3A of the act discourages unsustainable harvesting and clearance of private indigenous forests and provides for their sustainable management. Sawmills are regularly inspected by MPI. Anyone who breaches the act will be penalised with a hefty fine. By having these controls and guidelines in place, it ensures the longevity of swamp kauri in New Zealand which will always be a distinctive and important part of the natural history, culture and heritage of New Zealand.

Resource Management – Legislation

There are many requirements & regulations that must be adhered to in accordance to not only the Resource Management Act 1991 (RMA), but also the Forest Act 1949 and Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga Act 2014 when harvesting Swamp Kauri for Milling and Exporting. Each act may apply before, during and after excavation, to ensure the treatment of the Swamp Kauri is done with respect and with minimal disturbance to its surrounding environment. (Ministry of Primary Industries, 2017, p. 8 & 17)

Regulations under the RMA, where its purpose is to “promote the sustainable management of natural and physical resources”(Office, 1991), focuses in this instance the operator’s obligations before and after excavation. With any excavation from land, there will always be environmental effects associated with it, so before excavation the operator is obligated to contact the Regional, District or City Councils, i.e. local authorities in the area first, as it is their responsibility to ensure the main functions under the RMA are being implemented. In some cases, depending on where the operator wants to excavate, the local authorities may be required to consult local tangatawhenua through iwi authorities. This is to ascertain whether they have pertinent planning documents recognized by iwi authorities that must be considered. (Ministry of Primary Industries, 2017, p. 8) & (Environment Foundation, 2018)

A relevant draft copy of the planned excavation must be given to local iwi authorities. This will give them sufficient time and opportunity to deliberate and give advice on any issues or recommendations they may have regarding the land and extraction. (Environment Foundation, 2018)

With regional plan rules provided, the local authorities accompany the operator to the excavation site to assess the land and determine whether resource consent is needed. Resource consent can comprise of but not limited to the excavation in or near wetland, the existence of an archaeological site that may hold historical and cultural significance, soil disturbance and or the removal of indigenous plants. (Ministry of Primary Industries, 2017, p. 8)

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Though under section 36A in the RMA, it states “that neither an applicant nor a local authority have a duty to consult any person (including Maori) about resource consent applications”(Environment Foundation, 2018), but in order to establish a good working relationship with the local tangatawhenua, it is in the best interest of the operator that the local iwi’s are consulted early as a sign of respect. It will reduce probable issues to arise in the future, such as litigations, protesting and delays. Also, it shows compliance regarding important stipulations in Part 2 of the RMA. (Environment Foundation, 2018)

Globalization – Trade and Exports

Global exports, of swamp kauri have become subject to stringent guidelines. Export of indigenous timber and timber products is largely prohibited where swamp kauri can only be exported as a completed product and / or whole or sawn stumps or roots – provided the timber didn’t come from native forest land. However, there are no restrictions under the Forests Act on the domestic sale of swamp kauri provided the milling requirements have been met. (Radio NZ, 2018).

Stumps and roots proposed for export must be physically inspected and sanctioned by MPI before they are exported. Customs department will not provide clearance until this is done. (MPI- Forestry New Zealand, 2018) The Forests Act 1949 sets out the instructions that control the milling and export of swamp kauri. Effective 1 August 2017, swamp kauri export traders will need to apply for a permit whereby a number will be issued to clear their export entries through the Customs’ system. (New Zealand Legislation, 2018) These permits are non-transferable which will be provided by the MPI on the finished approved Intention to export (ITE) form. All export policies and requirements are unchanged which the exporters must meet in order to export. (MPI- Forestry New Zealand, 2018)

New Zealand Swamp Kauri wood is made into beautiful furniture, fine art and crafts. Our extensive range of Swamp Kauri products are exported China, UK, USA, & Australia. (Swamp Kauri Investments Limited, 2017). Visitors arriving from all over the world take much interest in these products as well. Most popular products are:-

1. Maori related art work

2. Chinese related art work

3. Jewelry (bracelet)

4. Souvenirs (clocks, trinket boxes)

5. Household Goods (bread boards, salad bowels, salad servers, spoons, and tongs)

6. Furniture (dining suites, coffee tables, couches, office furniture)

(Image: Extracted from Swamp Kauri Investments Limited, 2017)

Products for export must be classified as a finished and manufactured timber product or as a personal effect as stated above.

The Forests Act clearly defines what constitutes a finished product and what constitutes a stump: » Stumps can include that part of the trunk that extends from the ground-line to a point (up the trunk) equal to the maximum diameter of the trunk. » A finished or manufactured product is one that is in its final state and ready to be installed for its intended use without any further working or modification. (Radio NZ, 2018). Other than stump timber, swamp kauri cannot be exported as whole logs, sawn timber or any unfinished products.

Exporting native timber in violation of the Forests Act is a serious felony. Penalties include fines of up to $200,000 on conviction.



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