Blaming forestry sector a modern-day witch-hunt

Friday 31 Mar 2023

Marcus Musson is a director of forestry company Forest 360.

OPINION: It’s always interesting witnessing the aftermath of a disaster when the academics, boffins and other experts come out of the woodwork to impart their impressive wisdom with great pride.

The media, politicians and the public then jump on comments made by this group and take their opinions as fact without much in the way of consideration that many of these people generally have very little in the way of practical understanding of multifaceted issues, especially within primary sectors.

The current witch-hunt on the forest industry is textbook Salem in the late 1600s and boffinism is fuelling the fire(s).

Let’s get the term slash straight – this refers to harvest residues, the bits of the trees that are left behind to support regeneration of the soils once a plantation is harvested. It does not mean standing forests (permanent forestry) or riparian plantings (farmer-planted trees usually along waterways for environmental protection reason). Today, however, slash has become the catchall for any woody debris that ends up in a river.

We, the forestry industry, are not denying that harvest residues (slash) have created issues with infrastructure throughout the East Coast and some areas of Hawke’s Bay, and that we can and will do better as an industry. However, this needs some perspective and context to fully understand the many and complex issues at play.

‘Experts’ in the media will have you believe that we, as an industry, wantonly throw slash into waterways with blatant disregard for downstream consequences. This couldn’t be further from the truth and current legislation ( National Environmental Standards for Plantation Forestry, NESPF) is very clear on the penalties for doing this.

Not to mention that the economics of ‘throwing away’ good trees simply doesn’t make sense. The issue we are seeing across Tairāwhiti and Hawke’s Bay is woody debris that has come from many sources. This is not a new problem. It’s no surprise that a number of bridges in the Esk Valley were built in 1939, following their destruction in the 1938 flood, well before pine forests were planted.

When we have biblical rain events on some of the most erodible soils in the world, the holding capacity of the steeper slopes becomes significantly reduced and as a result those slopes fail and gravity ensures that the slopes, and everything planted on them, end up in the drink. Many of these slopes have trees planted on them (native and pine) and consequently these trees also end up in the drink. Once these trees have floated down a river and rolled around with other debris (poplar, willows, farm debris, shipping containers, fence posts), they smash to pieces and become very hard to discern from any other woody residue.

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Further industry commentary on the slash issue: Forestry Slash Unfairly in the Firing Line

Source: Stuff, ODT

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