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Logging in New Zealand: Trees and Kiwis

Map of New Zealand

A mountainous group of islands in the southwestern Pacific, New Zealand is known for its spectacular scenery. Its rugged mountains, glaciers, and fjords make it a popular tourist destination, as well as the perfect setting for a wildly successful series of fantasy movies. New Zealand's citizens are known informally as Kiwis – after the native bird, not the fruit, which Kiwis call a kiwifruit. The melting-pot population includes people of European descent and indigenous Maori, as well as Asians and Polynesians.


Logging was one of New Zealand's earliest industries during the European settlement in the 19th century. The hardwood from native kauri was long and straight, making it perfect for ship masts. The native forests were slow growing, however, and began to be exhausted. Beginning in the 19th century the government started planting exotic forests to address timber shortages. In the 1930s, vast areas were planted with pinus radiate, the largest tract being the 188,000-hectare Kaingaroa Forest – one of the largest plantation forests in the world.


New Zealand consciously developed plantations to protect its depleted native forests, which are now controlled by very strict government legislation. Today plantations represent 19 percent of the country's forests, while providing 99 percent of roundwood production. Ninety percent of the country's harvest comes from radiata pine softwood plantations, which grow in average 30-year cycles, although some companies are trying to streamline this to 25 years.


Plantation development has taken time but is now reaching maturity. Land in New Zealand is at a premium, with forestry and agriculture battling for available space. Natural forests are now well protected, with special government licenses required for harvesting any native timber.


New Zealand harvested approximately 28 million tons of wood in 2013, and is expected to harvest 30 million or more over the next few years. The forestry export market has seen sustained growth for the last three years, driven primarily by the export of logs to China. Exports are expected to increase further due to strong economic growth and infrastructure development in countries such as China and India, and rebuilding efforts in Japan.


Wood in New Zealand is very heavy, with a volume-weight ratio of one m3 equaling one ton – generally heavier than wood in North America. Combined with the challenging terrain, harvesting systems tend to be different. Full stems are processed infield using large single-grip harvesters. If a full-tree system is used, the wood is skidded to a landing for processing. With a cut-to-length system, wood is processed at the stump and forwarded to the landing. Very few conventional feller bunchers are used. Approximately 80 percent of the wood is harvested in full-stem form.


The increasing price of logs has created a sustained demand for new harvesting machines. As loggers are becoming more safety conscious, the demand for purpose-built swing machines has increased over the traditional standard excavator. In addition, landowners expect loggers to be fully mechanized, including felling on steep slopes, which creates and opportunity for steep-slope mechanical felling.

With increasing demand and mechanization, the future of the forestry industry in New Zealand is looking bright.