Special Feature; Slash deluge hits Queenstown

Special Feature; Slash deluge hits Queenstown

Otago’s prime tourist resort gets hit by an extreme weather bomb, right in the middle of a Skyline logging operation above Queenstown’s CBD. It was bound to happen at some stage on extreme steep rocky slopes – aka Gisborne/Hawke’s Bay.

But this type of weather event would normally only occur perhaps a couple of times within 50 years.

It was a timely reminder for Queenstown to adapt the 2005 forestry management plan for its 650 ha forested backdrop.

Unfortunately, Skyline’s clearance of tall timber under its expanded gondola chairlift enterprise made prime time news for all the wrong reasons.

All for the wrong reasons. Basically, trees falling across cableways carrying 10-person carriages would be a major disaster.

The September 21/22 deluge this year once again proved that clear felling on slip-prone steep slope logging is not a recommended forestry practice.

But for a number of years tall 70-90-year-old Douglas-fir timber growth had been a constant threat to the company’s cableway and power lines.

Back 20-odd years ago a logging contractor and myself surveyed trees within 10-metre distance of the cableway, skimming above bluffs.

Even at that stage they measured at least three to five meters above the chairlift cables. Some stems exceeded 50 metres in height.

In the last few years two contracting teams had been taking down Douglas-fir, assisted by  arborists across bluffs. 

The area for the clear fell operation  was roughly 100 metres each side of the gondola centre line – about 900 metres from the bottom building to the top.

And it has now proved to be one of the most difficult and most dangerous logging operations in Australasia, involving stringent health and safety regulations.

The Bob’s Peak forest was established on some extreme rock-fall areas.

Even Skyline founder, Hylton Hensman, was reputed to have thrown fir seed along the route.

An early 1911 photo (opposite bottom) shows planted trees above where the cemetery had been established, which included Pinus species, sycamore and wattle. 

Native beech growth dominates in some gullies, damp areas and terraces, where many of us locals cleared shrub and pulled out exotic growth.

Two problems now facing Skyline are control of regenerating fir and other exotics, and what to grow for slope stabilisation. Certainly nothing that will reach above cableways, which must rule out native beech and podocarp.

The blame game

Apportioning blame for the recent damage would be a tricky exercise.

It’s certainly not the fault of the logging contractors.

Logging contractors who I worked with on two other logging operations in the area, were competent – particularly in select tree and coupe (small area) logging.

There was little Skyline could do in this situation when clearance was required, except possibly taking out the tallest timber over a period of time.

This really goes back to the most comprehensive forest management scheme implemented by Branislav Zoric, completed in 2005. 

Contracted from Carter Holt Harvey, Mr Zoric was familiar with Austrian and German systems of parkland forestry with limited production felling.

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