The forestry industry has lost its social licence to operate in Tairāwhiti due to a culture of poor practice aided by a permissive council, said the body investigating land issues following Cyclone Gabrielle.
The Panel for the Ministerial Inquiry into Land Use in Tairāwhiti and Wairoa has made nearly 50 recommendations, and said urgent action is needed to avoid an unfolding environmental disaster.
The inquiry was convened to address the deluge of wood and forest debris that was deposited downstream following February’s cyclone, destroying properties and infrastructure.
Panel chair Hekia Parata said solutions include land use change and controls on forest planting and logging practice.
Officials must act with urgency.
“We heard from experts that the situation is perilous – the time to act is now,” she said.
“In their estimation we have five to 10 years to turn this environmental disaster around.”
The panel found that “the forest industry has lost its social licence in Tairāwhiti due to a culture of poor practices – facilitated by the Gisborne District Council’s capitulation to the permissiveness of the regulatory regime – and its under-resourced monitoring and compliance.
“Together these factors have caused environmental damage, particularly to land and waterways, and they have put the health and safety of people and their environment at risk,” the report says.
The panel recommends that extreme erosion-prone land be transitioned out of pasture and production forestry into permanent forest and for a halt to wide-scale clear felling of forestry to be replaced with a mosaic of staged logging.
It also recommends a broad package of government support for clean-up, infrastructure and economic development in the region.
Other recommendations include creating market opportunities and commercial use for harvest residues; changing forestry legislation to restrict the use of land for plantation forestry; tightening of compliance monitoring and creating a world-leading biodiversity credit scheme to incentivise the establishment of permanent indigenous forests.
The panel found much of the current land use was unsustainable.
This was the unintended consequences of successive government strategies and inadequate local authority intervention to recognise the complexity of the region’s well-known geomorphology and its people.