Foresters and councils are still at odds about forestry’s culpability for slash as new regulations around the management of forest waste are set to kick in from November 2.
Announced in early October by then minister for environment David Parker, the regulations on where new commercial forests could be located also include clear rules on harvesting practices and removal of slash from erosion-prone land.
These include ensuring slash that is longer than 2m and wider than 10cm at its largest end is removed after harvesting unless it is unsafe to do so. The standard is a minimum across the country, with councils now given the power to apply more stringent yardsticks if they choose.
The new regulations have been welcomed by Wairoa District Council mayor Craig Little, whose district was hit hard by the impact of sediment and forest waste after Cyclone Gabrielle.
“David Parker really listened to us when he came down here and we have worked a lot with him to arrive at these regulations. Before we were completely powerless here under a single national policy on plantation forestry, so we are now quite excited by what the rules mean – but I also know forestry are not entirely happy about them.”
The change in rules also enables councils to have a greater say on where and how forests will be planted. The sector has taken issue with this, claiming a lack of council resources means decisions will not adequately informed.
James Treadwell, president of the Forestry Institute, said there is no doubt some councils will be imposing additional standards over and above those set out in the new rules.
“But they do not always understand the difficulties of plantings. To be fair to Gisborne District Council [GDC], they got hammered by the ministerial inquiry so because of that they are more like to simply say ‘No’ to new forest plantings.”
Treadwell said he suspects there may also be a halt to new forest plantings in Wairoa.
Little said he appreciates forestry companies may say it will be the end of forestry in the district, “but we have to make it a level playing field regardless of land use”.
“The solution after Cyclone Bola was to plant pines, and that did not work. We have to ensure we adopt the best land use, in a district that still has many years of slash still to come down our rivers.”
He also defended his council’s ability to manage and monitor forestry with the powers the new regulations provide.
“We have a very capable regulatory team here, and we do share resources across other councils too.”
The GDC’s sustainable futures director, Joanna Noble, said the council is looking into options for introducing further requirements around the management of forestry in Tairāwhiti.
Warren Rance, chair of the Eastland Wood Council, said the council largely supports the updated standards to reduce the risk of forest slash and debris.
However, the increased notification requirements placed on councils will require greater support from central government to ensure councils are well resourced to develop and administer systems, he said.
The broad-brush approach to removing debris from forest slopes is unlikely to achieve the desired outcome, while severely affecting the viability of the industry locally and nationally, he said.
“The Gisborne District Council will need support to achieve the required improvement in mapping accuracy if these rules hope to achieve the intended outcome, and we look forward to continuing to work with GDC so we can get this important work right.”
He suggested a national standard for determining the composition of residual debris would be useful, with a means for measuring debris – meaning each council would not have to develop its own tools.
Forest Owners Association president Grant Dodson agreed the new rules are not entirely bad for the industry, providing more clarity by including carbon forests into the national standards.
However, the demands around slash clearance raise health and safety risks for forestry workers and have companies walking a fine line at harvest time.
Foresters are extremely unhappy about the ability of councils to consent, or not, to new forest plantings.
“A landowner should be able to make their own decision on what they do and councils should not be the ones to pick land-use winners around the country.”