Forestry practices again singled out after storms

Friday 20 Jan 2023

An environmental group has called for a commission of inquiry into forestry practices following reports of multiple properties being inundated by storm debris all over the East Coast. The Environmental Defence Society has called the issue a “disaster”.

Chief executive Gary Taylor said the consequences of inadequate controls over exotic plantation forestry operations had been seen again with massive inundation of private property by slash and debris from upstream forestry land.

“Entire houses at Tolaga Bay have been smashed to smithereens, rivers and streams wholly blocked with debris causing extensive flooding of property, and bridges and beaches covered with massive quantities of slash. This is completely unacceptable. It is a repeating occurrence and must have legal consequences.

“The wider context includes several recent prosecutions of forestry companies for breaching even the weak regulatory regime that currently applies. The courts have slammed operators not only for their breaches but also their cavalier attitudes.”

Taylor said the Government was currently reviewing the National Environmental Standards for Plantation Forestry, but the limited terms of reference meant it would only result in tinkering with the rules applying to plantation forestry. “Agencies seem in thrall to the sector which is dominated by offshore interests which are powerful and influential. Industry representatives, with clear conflicts of interest, dominate the Government review of the Forestry Industry Transformation Plan.

“It is time for a full-blown, independent Commission of Inquiry to take a fresh look at the sector, the rules that govern it, whether clear-felling with its adverse consequences should continue, and where liability should lie for any and all offsite damage such has occurred at Tolaga Bay.” He said it was unjust that private landowners and councils should bear those costs.

“A formal inquiry is urgently needed because these extreme weather events will become more frequent with climate change. A Commission of Inquiry with all its powers, including those to subpoena witnesses, is required to undertake a proper investigation into the forestry sector. A reset in this area is well overdue.”

New Zealand Institute of Forestry Council president James Treadwell said it was early days to be calling for an inquiry. I am not against an independent inquiry but I am against an inquiry which just looks at the forestry industry and how we need to improve. The inquiry needs to look at the broader picture- the history of the site, flood plains and effects of climate change. Why are there houses on flood plains?

“It’s highly erodible soil which has been there since the time there were farms. The government planted the trees there and now we have climate change.” Treadwell said an inquiry could be useful depending on what the terms of references were.

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For further coverage this week on a suggested inquiry, click here and a community petition that's just been set up calling for change in how forest operations are managed in the region.

Right Forest: Right Place: It is time for the forest industry to have a conversation with itself about putting the right forest in the right place in the brave new world where ex-tropical cyclones are the new normal, says Dr Sean Weaver, CEO of environmental forestry company Ekos.

“The damage to Tairāwhiti property and infrastructure from Cyclone Hale is a sign of things to come if clear cut plantation forestry continues to be undertaken on erosion-prone landscapes,” Weaver said. “We need to stop doing clear cutting on erodible lands and transition to continuous cover forestry and permanent forests in vulnerable parts of the country” Weaver said.

“If the costs to clean up the mess and compensate people for property and infrastructure damage from forestry sediment trespass were factored into forestry investment models, clear cut forestry would be far less profitable in such places and probably would not happen,” he said.

“We have many steep, erosion-prone lands that are not suitable for pastoralism or clear-cut forestry. In such places we need to design land use practices to match land use capability,” he said.

Note: Sean Weaver from Ekos will be presenting on Continuous Cover Forestry later in the year at New Zealand's Environmental Forestry conference running in June. Programme details will be out shortly.

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Source: NZ Herald, Scoop, RNZ

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