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FOREST FIRES

PUBLIC TOO CASUAL

A DIFFICULT POSITION

(By "Tawhcra.")

There have been quite a number of forest fires recently. Naturally the destruction of a considerable area of the Tararua forest, how much cannot be assessed at the moment, arouses most interest in Wellington, but it is to be feared that the resentment felt here is chiefly due to the sacrilege to a playground, and not, as it should be, because of the irreparable damage to a water conservation area.

Part, fortunately, only a small part, of the Wellington City and Suburban Water Supply Board's property was damaged, the State forest suffering to a greater extent, but it is probable that much more would have gone had the wind been the other way. Wellington had recently to augment its'water supply. Nothing is surer than that, with the growth of Wellington and its suburbs, every available catchment area will prove necessary for an adequate' water supply. If from time to time patches of forest are destroyed by fire, the value of the city's water conservation areas will be largely gone. Replacement of native forests has not been carried out with any conspicuous success so far, and it would be more difficult upon high spurs and ridges such as those where the recent Tararua fire blazed. Forest-covered ridges, with the trees sheltering one another, and a carpet of moss and fern forming the floor, are little damaged by even the most violent storms, but directly the ridges p.re bared the swift surface runlets of storms wear channels which in time cause rock slides and push the fringe of the forest back A CARELESS PEOPLE. The number of friends of tlie forest is growing steadily in New, Zealand, and self-interest is adding many advocates for their conservation from the ranks of the farmers whose lands below are damaged by erosion; but if it is difficult to ascertain the causes of city fires—and how often are they announced? —how much more difficult it is to say which of a party of campers, shooters, or trampers is responsible for bush fires. Nobpdy could say off-hand what the penalties in law are for such transgressions, for there have been very few convictions, and where the fires were not intentional, few fines. Carelessness, however, does not excuse in this case; it is itself a crime. There have been fires in the National Park, and one which for many days menaced the wonderful kauri reserve at W.aipoua, where at one stage some thirty men were engaged in preserving a unique stand of New Zealand's finest tree, practically the only one readily accessible. Rain alone brought the kauris final safety. It is unfortunate that the time of year when the forest is most readily set alight is that when the majority of people like most to visit it, but unless more care is taken by those who pass through, it may be necessary to prohibit trespass on forestry reserves during the dry sunny season. Probably the question of pollution has mo^re to do with the • closing of the Wainui-o-mata reserve to the public than the danger of fires, but nobody is allowed there at any time without a permit, and if other forestry authorities were to impose the same restriction only approved persons would be allowed in the bush. The difficulty would be to determine who were approved persons, and one careless person :can undo the good intentions and care of hundreds. ■ SOME OF THE PROBLEMS. The exclusion of deerrshootlng parties would not be desirable. Such men are as a rule well enough versed in outdoor life to be fully aware of the dangers of carelessness with fires. The issue of permits before entry into forests would not prevent unauthorised people entering them unless there were rangers to insist upon the production of the permits, and this brings to mind the rather scanty system of forest fire ranging, and the comparative absence of permanently-placed officers on high positions, offering views of wide ranges of country. The difficulty in this is that without telephone communication such a service would be deprived of its chief value, speed in attack on outbreaks before they assumed serious proportions. Telephones in the bush are difficult to maintain in repair, owing to falling dead wood and contacts with swinging creepers and stormtossed foliage, and it usually happens that such lines. of communication through the bush are out of action just where they are needed most.

Alpinists and members of tramping clubs foster the spirit which is essential to the preservation of forests, and they have frequently done good work in giving notice of fires- and fighting them, but it is hard to encourage young people to join their ranks without adding to the risks of fire due to inexperience. The problem seems one for stricter legislation. Even though, its successful administration would be expensive, the retention of existing forests Is now realised to be imperative.

The fire danger is not confined to uninhabited forest areas. Scrub - and noxious weed fires have repeatedly proved a risk to Wellington suburban properties, and there is the case of remaining patches of forest in the Hutt Valley being lost by fanners burning off gorse and broom. During recent years dwellings on the eastern side of the harbour have been threatened by fires on the hills. It is interesting to note that a new fire district, the Eastern Bays Forest Fire District, was created by a recent Gazette notice, providing in effect that no timber, undergrowth, debris, or inflammable material shall be set light to without the written permit of a forestry officer. '

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FOREST FIRES Evening Post, Volume CXXV, Issue 21, 26 January 1938

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