The greatest success story of New Zealand's modern environmental movement was the pivotal campaigns between 1970 and 2000 that stopped the destruction of New Zealand's native forest.
They began with the battle to save Lake Manapouri from being flooded, and by 2000, all the significant lowland forests in South Westland had become part of a World Heritage Area, the beech forests of the West Coast had largely been protected, and Paparoa National Park had been established. As well, the magnificent podocarp forests of Pureora and Whirinaki in the central North Island had been saved from the chainsaw, and many other smaller areas of forest had been included in the conservation estate.
Fight for the Forests tells this remarkable story, of how a group of young activists became aware of government plans to mill vast areas of West Coast beech forest and began campaigning to halt this. From small beginnings, a much larger movement grew, initially centred on the work of the Native Forests Action Council, and eventually Forest and Bird and Native Forest Action. These committed and extremely capable conservationists tapped into a widespread upwelling of public support and changed the course of environmental history in this country.
Mainly based on interviews with key players, author Paul Bensemann has recorded a largely untold but significant, inspiring history, one that reminds us that change for good is always possible.
Describing himself as a conservation ‘foot-soldier’, Paul Bensemann was first involved in native forest issues at age 19, when he drove to Fiordland in 1972 from his Motueka Valley home specifically to work on the ‘Save Manapouri’ campaign. Four years later, he joined the New Zealand Forest Service head office as a spy for the Native Forests Action Council (NFAC), spending nine months leaking information that the department was refusing to release on its planned industrial-scale West Coast ‘beech scheme’. In 1978, while secretary of NFAC’s Wellington branch, he and wife Elsie Ellison joined the Pureora tree-top occupation, helping protest leader Stephen King with community liaison at Mangakino and the milling town of Barryville. The couple did a similar iwi-liaison during the Whirinaki campaign over the next two years.
Paul left the movement to work as a newspaper and radio journalist, based for most of the 1990s in the parliamentary press gallery. He became politically active again from the late 1990s as a senior staff member for the Green Party. This included public relations support for Green Co-Leaders Rod Donald and Jeanette Fitzsimons as they backed the Native Forest Action (NFA) tree-top campaign at Charleston. He then helped in parliamentary back-room deals that led to three parties – Labour, the Alliance and the Greens – end logging of native trees on Crown land by March 2002.
His two previously published books are Tragedy at Aramoana, Cape Catley/INL, 1991 and Lost Gold, Craig Potton Publishing, 2013.
– Shortlist finalist in the 2019 Ockhams Book Awards in the illustrated non-fiction category