Amelia Williams, Executive Chair of Ngāti Tara Tokanui Trust, has responded to the concerns expressed by local kuia, Nancye Gage, about many families living in cold, damp homes and unable to source firewood due to the COVID-19 lockdown.
“Many Māori whānau struggle to stay warm over winter as buying firewood is just not affordable. Usually firewood is collected from farms or roadsides but this year, we are emerging from isolation straight into the colder winter months,” says Ms Williams.
“While there are many families living in unbelievably challenging conditions – some with up to 15 people living in the one house – we needed to prioritise our support to our most vulnerable, who are kaumātua more than 70 years of age with children and mokopuna in the house, solo parents and at-risk families on low incomes,” says Ms Williams.
Ms Williams wrote to the Prime Minister, Department of Conservation (DOC) and Andy Warren of forestry company Rayonier Matariki Forests during lockdown to see if an arrangement could be put in place to support whānau. A plan was developed to access non-merchantable wood from Rayonier Matariki Forests’ plantations in Tairua and Athenree Forests.
DOC’s Pou Tairangahau Apanui Skipper has been the interface between the forestry companies and other DOC offices, and says it has taken six weeks of planning during lockdown to finalise logistics.
“We have welcomed being a part of this wonderful initiative and really appreciate the forestry companies coming together to make this happen for Hauraki iwi,” says Mr Skipper.
“Everyone involved has had a vital part to play in bringing this project together for the benefit of our community. DOC has a strong focus on growing and developing its relationship with its Treaty Partners – alongside others – to benefit whānau, hapū and iwi.”
During Level 4, trees had to be left on the forest floor, unable to be processed into higher quality products, due to degradation. Rayonier Matariki Forests Bay of Plenty Regional Manager, Andy Warren, organised with Coromandel Contractors to recover the short-length wood.
The wood has been loaded onto trucks and transported to some Hauraki marae, and also to DOC’s Hauraki District office in Thames. It has been distributed to families in Thames, Paeroa, Te Aroha, Waihi and Te Puru, and Mr Warren also joined forces with forestry company counterpart Ernslaw One in order to supply Manaia, Whitianga and Wharekaho families from the Whangapoua Forest.
Mr Warren says he is delighted to be a part of this collaborative project which will see many families being able to stay warm over the colder months.
“There are some families in desperate situations and the 10-15 truckloads of wood we will be bringing out of our forests should go some way to helping a large number of people,” says Mr Warren.
After taking delivery of the logs, a team of DOC staff have cut and split them and then loaded the wood onto tip trailers for delivery to homes over the next two weeks.