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The protection of rural lands against fire in New Zealand


Fire Control Officer, New Zealand Forest Service.

This paper was prepared in connection with the Forest Fire Training Program reported in an article in UNASYLVA, Vol. V. No. 4. A study will shorty be published by FAO entitled Elements of Forest Fire Control

The protection of rural lands against fire in New Zealand

In New Zealand, a nation-wide system for protecting rural lands against fire has evolved from that developed in the country's forests, and it possesses the great virtue of providing for the level of organization appropriate to the local fire hazards in each individual district. Forest protection under New Zealand conditions involves control of the use of fire on adjoining agricultural lands; conversely, forestry is fundamental to the land economy of the country, since forests are productive on much nonagricultural laud, and, more important, the larger part of the forest estate consists of water shed protection forests. The protection of river catchment areas also involves the maintenance of an adequate cover of vegetation on steep pastoral lands. For these reasons, the conservation of soil and water resources to preserve the productivity of agricultural lands and safeguard hydro-electric power developments entails the fire protection of other rural lands as well as forests. The conclusion to be drawn in so far as New Zealand experience goes is that the fire protection of forests and of other rural lands are inseparable.

New Zealand is a mountainous country, so settlement is at no point very far from steep hills or mountain ranges on which protective vegetation of some sort must be preserved. Sheep grazing in the valleys, the headwaters of major rivers and the high mountain basins, encroaches everywhere e upon the mountain forest land. Over most of the country the climate is almost ideal for sheep farming on one system or another: wool growing on the high country, wool and store sheep on the foothills and lower levels, wool growing and stock fattening on the flats and rolling fertile land. In the wetter districts sheep raising gives way to cattle raising on the easier levels and dairy farming on the better land. The forests have been felled or burnt on land suitable for agriculture, and on much that is not. An equable climate and a generally well distributed rainfall have enabled even poor land to be profitably utilized for sheep farming. On scrub lands no more was required than burning, surface sowing, some fencing and stocking. Seasonal burning to control roughage and provide fresh feed has gone hand in hand with sheep grazing on the higher and poorer land.

The clearing and settling of the forests and natural grass lands of New Zealand have created some of the most productive farmlands in the world per unit of labor employed. But there is another side to the picture: soil erosion and declining soil fertility on certain classes of land, flooding and wasting of productive river flats and coastal districts, the construction of costly engineering works for river control, and the acceleration of natural erosion. The last may become a threat to the hydro-electric schemes upon which the country is particularly dependent for its power supply.

In retrospect it can be seen that the settlement of the country by a pioneering stock lacking forestry traditions was bound to mean the destruction of forests on a large scale. To the early settlers only a few species of timber seemed to be of much value, while food and exchangeable produce were their immediate needs. Land' suitable for settlement was soon in short supply and settlers had to make their homes and their livings under the conditions open to them. Too often this meant the clearing of land which should never have been stripped of trees, and too often it meant in the long run for the people concerned the waste of a lifetime's hard work. Under different circumstances they would have deserved well of their country.

Conservation and recovery measures

Fortunately, the mild climate and adequate rainfall will bring back a vegetative covering on most of the eroded land that has not been baled to the parent rock, provided that fire and over-grazing by stock are eliminated. Besides the organization of a nation-wide system of fire protection under the aegis of the New Zealand Forest Service, the government departments having agricultural and land interests have set up land utilization committees to decide the use of lands belonging to the crown or to be acquired by it. Lands that should be managed for soil and water conservation or for the sustained yield of timber are dedicated as state forest land and administered by the Forest Service. Improvements in farming methods on land subject to erosion, such as aerial top-dressing of hill country, are pioneered by the Soil Conservation Council.

The objectives of the fire protection of rural lands in New Zealand may be summarized as follows:

(i) the preservation of the forests and other protective vegetation of the mountain ranges for the control of erosion, conservation of water resources and timber production;

(ii) the control of burning on steep land in general for the conservation of the soil and regulation of runoff;

(iii) the control of fire wherever burning on rural lands is against the public interest;

(iv) the protection of 860,000 acres (348,000 hectares)1 of highly inflammable exotic coniferous forests, which must within a generation supply the bulk of the timber required in the country;

(v) the protection of indigenous commercial forests and some 500,000 acres of cut-over forest land that may some day regenerate an indigenous timber crop.

1 Throughout this article it is taken that 1 acre = 0.40a hectares.


New Zealand is a mountainous country with less than one quarter of its land surface below the 650 ft. (198 m.) contour. The combined lengths of the two main Islands extends just over 1,000 miles (1,600 km.) with a maximum width of 280 miles (450 km.), and the main mountain ranges run from the extreme south-west of the South Island to the north-east of the North Island, dividing both Islands into eastern and western regions. The South Island is much the more mountainous of the two; the massive, heavily glaciated chain known as the Southern Alps, with major peaks reaching up to 12,347 ft. (3,763 m.) extends the entire length of the island. Mt. Cook in the Southern Alps is the highest peak in the Dominion. In the North Island the higher mountain country takes up one-tenth of the surface and with the exception of four volcanic peaks does not exceed 6,000 ft. (1,800 m.) The two active volcanoes, Ruapehu and Ngauruhoe, are 9,175 ft. (2,797 m.) and 7,515 ft. (2,291 m.) in height respectively. Ruapehu is the highest peak in the North Island. In both islands, there are only relatively small areas of flat lands and these are mostly coastal strips, river valleys and high inland basins. The largest single area of flat land, the Canterbury Plains in the South Island, is 150 miles (240 km.) long by about 40 miles (64 km.) at the widest part.


Situated between latitudes 30° 4' S. and 47° 2' S., the country lies within the zone of prevailing westerly winds, known as the "roaring forties." Travelling across a thousand miles of open sea from Australia these winds are moisture laden, and as they strike against the main mountain ranges running south-west to north-east, precipitation is generally much greater in the western districts. This is most marked in South Island, where the Southern Alps form a massive barrier. This general trend towards a wet and a dry side is modified by secondary ranges and the steepsided inter-montane depressions. All areas east of the main range are subject to hot, dry north-west winds, which may blow for several days on end during the summer and autumn months; these winds are particularly severe on the Canterbury Plains of South Island.

The New Zealand climate is characterized by relatively mild temperatures all the year round, a normally adequate and well distributed rainfall and a high number of hours of sunshine. Even in wet districts rain falls on surprisingly few days. Strong winds and brilliant sunshine generally dry out the surface quickly even after rain, so that fire hazards can develop in a matter of days on exposed situations. Dry spells and droughts occur in a complex pattern which is not yet fully understood. In most years there is a dry spell or near drought in some part of the Dominion - for instance, in 1949 - in the northern districts of North Island, and in 1950 in the summer rainfall districts of the extreme South and the normally wet west coast of South Island. A wet summer in the usually dry districts often means a dry season in the wet districts, but widespread dry conditions or drought occur only occasionally. A dry spell in the wet districts soon dries out the mosses, lichens and filmy ferns in the rain forest with the result that very high fire hazards develop even when humidities are still above what is normally considered to be the critical level. Complex weather behavior makes forecasting difficult; the pattern of weather is determined by the deflection of the prevailing winds by the mountain heights, so that a shift of even a degree or two in the direction of the wind can change the pattern entirely. Microclimates are more the rule than the exception.

Land and land use

The combined land area of the two islands is 66 million acres. Forests and scrub lands cover 34.8 percent; alpine, sub-alpine, vegetation and bare rocks, 10.5 percent; tussock grass lands, 21.2 percent; sown grass lands, 27.3 percent; cultivated lands and orchards, 2.3 percent; exotic forests, 1.2 percent; residential, roads, rivers, sand dunes and minor waste areas, 2.7 percent. Of 43 million acres of land under occupation, 31.75 million are devoted to pastoral production, 5 million acres to dairy farming, 26.75 million acres predominantly to sheep grazing.

Under such conditions nation-wide fire control on rural lands would be impracticable if it were not accepted by the farming community. It is gratifying to be able to say that the very comprehensive legislation recently brought into force to this end had the support of the national organization of farmers - Federated Farmers of New Zealand.

The system of livestock - pastoral farming as generally practiced in New Zealand - is unique in many respects, and is credited with having the highest output of produce in the world per unit of labor engaged. Besides exporting great quantities of meat, butter, cheese, etc., New Zealand, ranking seventh for number of sheep is the third largest producer and exporter of wool. This specialization on grassland's farming has been brought about by two important factors: the favorable climate and the use of artificial fertilizers. On flat or easy rolling country, where these factors are complementary, there is little erosion or fire danger, since roughage is controlled by cattle and the land is extremely productive; much of this highly productive land was not originally fertile and has only been made so by the system of management employed.

The photograph above shows a thypical scene of the vast man-made forests of New Zealand, a type of forest in which freedom from fires is of paramount importance. Below is a view in a thypical forest ride, the blocks of conifers being surrounded with belts of broad-leaved trees.

The sign, enamelled on metal, is a standard type of the New Zealand State Forest Service.

The position is less satisfactory on the steeper and higher country, where the use of fertilizers is difficult or impracticable. This is the case of the tussock grass lands of the South Island and the higher, cleared forest lands of both islands, and it is there that erosion caused by continued burning and overgrazing presents the most serious problems. The hill country grasses, the native danthonias and brown top, ripen early with little leafage, and if they are not grazed down or burnt, become unpalatable, so that sheep do not thrive. Fires lit when the grasses have ripened are fierce and cause such damage to the soil that there is a net loss of fertility. At present, burning is prohibited on lands of this sort during periods of high fire hazard. But the discontinuation of the practice entirely is essential, if the decline in soil fertility is to be arrested. The use of cattle must replace "matchstick farming."

The complete long-term solution of this problem is a matter of economics and correct land use. Land that in the long run can only be farmed at a loss to the community is likely to revert to the Crown, and will then be placed under forest management, either for timber production or watershed protection. Land that can be stabilized by a permanent grass covering will require a more intensive type of management to bring it back into full productivity: resowing, top-dressing, the control of grazing by closer subdivision, stocking with cattle suitable for hill country. For occupiers of such lands with low financial returns, it has been a difficult if not impossible task to improve the system of management, as is reflected in the recent creation of the Marginal Lands Board to provide financial assistance under negotiated conditions of management. A new factor which may be of some importance in the management of marginal lands is aerial top-dressing with fertilizers.


The primitive forest and scrub land of New Zealand covered some 62 percent of the land area, and probably a third to a half of this area could have been converted to good grasslands without a significant acceleration of the rate of erosion. A peculiar feature of the primitive vegetation is that it evolved over a long period of isolation, free from man and grazing and browsing animals, other than the moa, a genus of flightless birds, some species of which reached 10 ft. (3 m.) in height. The colonization of the country by successive waves of Polynesians, commencing about a thousand years ago, probably made little difference to the forest lands proper, although there are native traditions and other evidence of large fires having occurred. The largest species of moa were creatures of the open scrub and grasslands, and the Maori moa hunters used fires to drive them into the swamps. After the moa had been exterminated, the forests were carefully protected by the Maori as important sources of food such as birds, berries and grubs. Damage to forests or trees brought punishment to offenders within a tribe, and warfare between tribes.

The upper limit of the forests was about 3,500 ft. (1,070 m.), a sub-alpine belt of scrub extended to 4,000 ft. (1,200 m.), and above that level alpine vegetation of one kind or another gradually gave way to the bare rock of the mountain tops. Where rainfalls were very low, from 30 to 35 inches (760-890 mm.) or less, forests gave way to natural grasslands covered by tussocks of ancient matted grasses. Under these conditions, natural erosion was slow and slips had time to heal.

The area under forest and scrub today is estimated to be 23 million acres; the proportion of forest to scrubland is not known exactly because of the numerous types of ownership involved: State, private and Maori tribal ownership. The absolute minimum area of forest and scrub land required to control erosion is estimated to be 20 million acres; so the existing area would appear to be sufficient, it lacks, however, proper distribution, and only 12 million acres are dedicated by statute as forest lands. There is no control over the forest and scrub land on private lands other than the control over burning during hazardous weather conditions. Much of the sub-alpine scrub belt under all forms of ownership has been damaged by fire and grazing, so that many forests are in retreat from the accelerated erosion from above.

Indigenous forests

The indigenous forests of New Zealand belong as a whole to that great division of the earth's vegetation called rain forests, and are divided into two classes: sub-tropical and sub-antarctic, the former being a mixed community of broad-leaved trees and conifers, and the latter a pure community of two or more species of beech (Nothofagus). Between these main classes, there are many intermediates. Broadly speaking, the mixed forests are the forests of the better lands on the lower and more accessible levels, and the beech the protection forests on the mountain eve of both Islands. Both classes of forests are for the most part over-mature and stagnant. The principal commercial softwood species in the mixed forests, which up till now have supplied the bulk of the timber for domestic requirements, are exceedingly slow growing and are unstable on their present sites, probably because of a climatic change in the past. They do not re-establish themselves after logging, except in a few favorable localities; the second crop usually consists of hardwoods of little value. These forests can no longer supply all the timber required in the country and must now be conserved to supply the better grades and finishing timbers needed; the exotic forests must supply the less-exacting grades. From the point of view of fire protection, the principal feature of these forests is their inability to re-establish themselves, and the difficulty of artificial establishment. The management and silvi-cultural problems of these mixed forests are without parallel in any other part of the world. The beech forests are more resilient and amenable to management; but they are very inflammable and a fire through a beech forest may mean its destruction for all time. Seed years are unreliable, and a ground fire through a forest between seed years will kill the trees the forest can then only re-establish itself from the slow spread from adjoining untouched forests, a process taking centuries at the best. The mixed forest, on the other hand, is not inflammable under normal weather conditions, but very destructive fires have occurred under abnormal conditions. The usual fire damage to this type of forest comes from scrub and bracken fires which sweep into the margins of the forest; the scorched trees die and bracken and scrub encroach, creating vulnerable salients from which succeeding fires sweep further in. The actual area of forest lost in any one fire is generally not great, but it is often a permanent loss, and it is the aggregate of such relatively small fires year in and year out over the whole Dominion which gives concern. Logged areas are of course very inflammable and when burnt over may be permanently lost to forest. Repeated burning brings absolute bareness and devastating erosion.

Two "quad" (four-whell drive) fire engines.

Standardized with the New Zealand Forest Service for fire control, are seen above; in between them are two tankers, also part of the normal fire-fighting equipment. Opposite, a radio-equipped truck is in operation at the scene of an actual fire. Radio is being increasingly used as a weapon in forest fire control.

Exotic forests

The State exotic forests consist for the e most part of Pinus radiata, P. laricio, P. ponderosa, P. strobus, P. patula and Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga taxifolia), and to a minor extent of such species as larch and Lawson's cypress (Cupressus lawsoniana). P. radiata, P. laricio and Douglas fir occupy the largest areas. The purpose of establishing the exotic forests was to supplement the rapidly diminishing indigenous forests, and forest policy has been put in a nutshell as "conservation of the indigenous forests and expansion of the exotic forests. All the successfully established exotic species have extremely rapid growth rates, but that of P. radiata is extraordinary, which is the reason very large forests of the species were established by afforestation companies on share capital. The total area of exotic forests is 860,000 acres, of which 451,000 acres are State forests and the rest owned by afforestation companies, local authorities and others. The largest State forest has 262,000 acres actually under trees (gross area 344,400 acres), and is probably one of the largest man-made forests in the world and one of the largest concentrations of annual wood growth. The largest private exotic forest has 160,000 acres under trees. In the near future the exotic forests will be the source of most of the softwoods, newsprint and other forest products used in New Zealand, and Will provide considerable exportable surpluses of timber newsprint and pulp.

The fire risk in the exotic forests is very high and the fact that there has been little silvicultural work in most of the forests adds to the risk. The bulk of the exotic forests is situated in the central volcanic plateau of North Island, where dry summers are the rule. All the State exotic forests have, however, effective fire organizations, and fire losses have been small. Severe fire losses have occurred in privately owned forests, but the largest company forests are now reasonably well organized for fire protection, and are included in the Forest Service radio and weather networks and aerial patrols.

New Zealand forest service

Towards the end of last century, when it was becoming apparent that the forests resources were not inexhaustible and almost irreparable losses were being caused by indiscriminate and even wanton destruction, a Forestry Branch of the Lands and Survey Department was formed for the administration of the forest on Crown lands. Statutory provisions were enacted for the protection of forests in 1874, 1885 and 1908. These powers were largely inoperative; they were in advance of public opinion generally and there was not sufficient staff to enforce them; access and communications in country districts were primitive and difficult. It was not until the Forests Act, 1921-22, established the present Forest Service that the administration and protection of State forests were put on a satisfactory basis.

New Zealand's national policy is briefly as follows:

(i) to ensure ample timber supplies for both the present and the future population of New Zealand;

(ii) to protect and regulate stream flow by preserving protection forests at the headwaters all important streams;

(iii) to maintain productive forests on non-agricultural land which if deforested might be turned into impoverished wastes;

(iv) to transfer to forest management all existing and future forests of which stream flow, soil fertility, climate and public health depend.

New Zealand forest service

These principles have governed the operations of the Forest Service for the last 30 years. The Forests Act, 1949, made no change in the governing principles, but consolidated the amendments to the original Act and redefined, with some extensions, the responsibilities of the Forest Service for the control and management of State forests for the purpose of water conservation, soil stabilization and balanced land use. The Act makes specific provision for land under any tenure to be acquired if it is showing actual or incipient erosion.

The fire protection policy of the Forest Service follows from the premise that, notwithstanding the generally favorable climate, fire is the greatest single menace to forests and protective vegetation in New Zealand: within a few hours fire can undo the work of centuries in building up a valuable soil-vegetation complex.

Fire control measures

The Forests Act, 1921-22, provided for the constitution of fire districts consisting of a State forest and a belt of surrounding land of sufficient width to give reasonable protection, and for closed fire seasons during which fires could not be lit without a written permit from a forest officer. The provision for fire districts could only be applied for the protection of forests at which forest officers were available for the administration of the district; so the Act laid down certain more general provisions for the protection of State forests. The principle of protection by means of fire districts was extended in 1925 to cover private forests having an area of not less than 200 acres. The executive officers of afforestation companies and other forest owners were appointed honorary forest rangers under the Forests Act for the purposes of the administration of the districts. In 1932 and 1940 the Lands Act was amended to give the same protection to sand dunes, peat lands and certain other areas.

The provisions of the Forests Act relating to the protection of forests were enforced as rigidly as was possible at the time with the magistracy not always sympathetic. These were shock tactics, but they were necessary in a community that had a tradition of free use of forests and forest destruction.

This situation was satisfactory as far as it went, but it left large areas of inflammable vegetation over which there was no authority for controlling the lighting of fires even during hazardous weather conditions. Large fires could build up in these areas until they brought damage and destruction to farm property, forests or protective vegetation. In most cases private forestry interests confined themselves strictly to their legal responsibilities and refrained from taking any action until their own properties were threatened. In many instances what could have been dealt with as minor outbreaks were allowed to develop until they were more than could be handled with limited resources of the companies concerned and the Forest Service had to be called in to help fight the fires. The need for legislation to deal with fire protection on a national scale was early recognized, but it was not until 1946, a year of disastrous fires in private forests, that there was public support for such legislation; the Forest and Rural Fires Act was passed in the following year.

The Forest and Rural Fires Act, 1947, was framed in the light of 30 years of New Zealand Forest Service experience in fire prevention, and its provisions are in consequence so sound that the Act should stand, with minor amendments to meet changing conditions, for a very long time. There is now practically no land in New Zealand for which there is not some authority for the control and prevention of fire.

The statutory provision for fire protection in New Zealand may be summarized as follows:

(i) the Fire Services Act, 1949, provides for the constitution of Urban Fire Districts, mainly in commercial and residential areas, under the control of Urban Fire Authorities;

(ii) the Forests Act, 1949, provides for fire prevention and fire control on State forest land that is not protected by a Rural Fire District;

(iii) the Forest and Rural Fires Act, 1947, provides for the constitution of Rural Fire Districts and for fire prevention and control over the whole of the rest of the Dominion.

Provisions of the forest and Rural Fires Act, 1947

The Forest and Rural Fires Act provides for land on which high fire hazards recur annually to be covered by Rural Fire Districts administered by Rural Fire Committees or the Minister of Forests; the rest of the Dominion with the exception of certain areas is placed under the control of the County Councils, which are appointed as Fire Authorities with powers of declaring an emergency during periods of high fire hazard. In this way the level of organization and the expense of fire protection are commensurate with the risks in each individual district, and control is exercised by men with intimate local knowledge, who will not impose unnecessary restrictions.

The soil conservation and rivers control council

The Soil Conservation and Rivers Control Act, 1941, makes provision for fire prevention and control. The Act is administered by a Council composed of the Permanent Heads of several Government Departments and five representatives from local bodies. Provision is made for the constitution of Soil Conservation Districts under the direct control of the Council or a Committee appointed by it, and for the constitution of Catchment Districts and their control by elected boards. Only one Soil Conservation District has been formed so far, and, under the Forest and Rural Fires Act, the Council is the Fire Authority for the District. Eleven Catchment Boards have been formed, and these Boards by the provisions of the Soil and Rivers Control Act have certain limited powers for the making of by-laws prohibiting the lighting of fires. They have no authority under the Forests and Rural Fires Act, unless the Country Councils within a Catchment District appoint officers of the Board as Fire Officers under the provisions of the Forests and Rural Fires Act.

Provisions of the Forests Act 1949 regarding fire

State forests that, because of administrative difficulties, are not protected by a Rural Fire District are protected by provisions in the Forests Act. These may be summarized as follows:

(i) it is an offence to light fires without lawful authority, on State forest land, or within a mile of such land if any forest produce is endangered or to leave untended a fire likely to spread to forest land;

(ii) it is an offense to leave anything burning or smouldering on State forest land;

(iii) right holders on State forest land must provide fire fighting equipment. The right of appeal to Fires Appeal Tribunal is provided;

(iv) every person becoming aware of a fire on State forest land or within a mile thereof must try to extinguish the fire, or to notify the Forest Officer if he cannot extinguish it and then to return to the fire until the fire is out or a Forest Officer approves his leaving;

(v) right holders and land occupiers are under similar obligations and must use their employees in fire fighting;

(vi) fit men over 18 years of age may be requisitioned for fire fighting; provision is made for their remuneration and protection under the Workers Compensation Act 1922;

(vii) costs of fire fighting by the Forest Service have to be borne by the owner of the land on which fire started if the fire endangered State forest land, or by the owner of the land whose property was protected, if the Minister so decides. Provision is made for appeal to the Fires Appeal Tribunal.

The fire-protection organization of the forest service

The Fire-Protection Organization of the Forest Service operates over the whole Dominion, covering State forests, forests on other Crown lands, scenic reserves and national parks. The organization has also the responsibility of securing co-ordination and uniformity in the administration of the Forest and Rural Fires Act by other Fire Authorities.

The provision of a fire-hazard prediction and warning service is an essential function of the Fire-Protection Organization. A Dominion-wide network of fire-weather stations and radio stations has been set up and weather readings are radioed twice daily during the fire season to the Head Office of the Forest Service in Wellington. The fire-hazard situation in any part of the country is known in Wellington within an hour of readings being taken at the stations; which enables appropriate action, such as advice to Fire Authorities broadcasting of warnings and alerting of field staff to be taken as the circumstances require.

The Head Office of the Forest Service includes a Fire-Control Section, which is responsible for the overall control of the Fire-Protection Organization. The personnel of the Fire-Control Section consists of the Fire-Control Officer, a Fire-Protection Inspector and a Communications Officer, and the section has the following specific responsibilities:

(i) seeing that the Fire-Protection Organization is effective wherever the Forest Service has fire responsibilities;

(ii) regular inspection of district fire organization;

(iii) training of personnel in fire protection and fire-fighting, and lecturing at fire courses at the Rotorua Forestry Training Center (other Fire Authorities send officers to the courses);

(iv) advising and guiding Fire Authorities;

(v) co-ordinating operations during a major fire emergency.

In the event of very critical conditions and continued fire-fighting in any one district, equipment and relieving staff are transferred from districts where conditions are safe at the time. Plans for co-ordinating assistance from the Armed Forces and other organized bodies of men during a major emergency are made before the commencement of the fire season each year.

In a Forest Conservancy the Senior Field Officer is the Fire Control Officer, and he is responsible for (i) the efficiency of the Fire-Protection Organizations within the Conservancy; (ii) Conservancy and Station fire plans; (iii) co-ordination of fire-fighting operations: (iv) public relations, legal matters and general administration; (v) cooperation with other Fire Authorities; and (vi) the standard and adequacy of fire equipment on all logging operations under Forest Service administration.

Fire-protection of state exotic forests

The fire hazard in exotic forests is very high and destructive fires are always a definite possibility. On the other hand, exotic forests generally have an adequate personnel, and are well roaded and have a high standard of efficiency in fire organization.

Standard U. S. Forest Service lookout cabins are located on all the larger forests, usually two or more to enable fires to be pin-pointed by cross bearings. The lookouts are equipped with Osborne Fire Finders, radio and telephones. Trained fire crews are held at or within call of Forest Headquarters, and also sub-headquarters in the major forests, according to the weather conditions. The standard of dispatch during high hazard weather is that the first crews shall be away within one minute from the receipt of an alarm. Internal precautions are rigidly enforced, and stringent control over burning is exercised within fire district zones in co-operation with the adjoining landowners.

An aerial patrol is maintained by the Royal New Zealand Air Force during the fire season in the central plateau districts of the North Island, where the main exotic forests, State and private, are located. Aerial patrols are carried out in other districts in times of extreme fire risk.

Indigenous forests

A lesser intensity of organization is necessary for indigenous forest protection. Fires do not spread quickly in the virgin forests under normal conditions, but they are extremely stubborn to control; deep humus and litter, old buried logs of durable timber, and dry standing snags may all smoulder for a long time and throw sparks over the fire lines during strong winds. Fire Plans for indigenous forests usually consist of details of areas to be protected, contacts, men available from sawmills, Public Works gangs and other men in the district. Equipment consists mostly of back-pack pumps, saws, axes, grubbers and power pumps. Water is the most effective means of getting these fires under control. (Jut-over areas are very inflammable and here again water is the best means for checking fires.

It is impossibile to give direct patrol attention to the majority of indigenous forests, and sawmillers, honorary rangers, settlers and other public-spirited persons have to be relied upon for information.

Situated on top of a hill in the middle of the forest, this fire lookout station is typical of those in the New Zealand State Forests.

The rugged scenery in the background is more usual in this country than is a large area of level forest.


New Zealand became British territory in 1840, but the Forest Service was not established until 1922. The first 80 years of European settlement might be called the era of "fell and burn"; in the next 30 years there were great changes: a nation-wide fire-protection organization was created, and the incidence of forest fires was reduced very nearly to those caused by accidents or through lack of understanding of fire behavior.

The use of forests for recreation is increasing and the Forest Service encourages such sports as mountaineering, tramping, deer stalking, wild pig hunting and trout fishing, as well as the gentler pleasures of picnicking and forest walks. Through educational media and public relations the Service has undertaken the positive task of creating a definite forestry tradition, and as the older generation of New Zealanders is showing a growing appreciation of the forests and forestry, a younger generation is coming on which accepts forestry as having a natural place in the national life. This is the best kind of forest and rural fire protection.

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