Saturday, December 2, 2023

Forestry report welcome – with some ‘buts’

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Local experts question enforceability of some of the recommendations.
Ag First farm consultant Peter Andrew is unconvinced about the practicality of many of the ministerial report’s recommendations.
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Tairāwhiti farmers see some useful recommendations coming from the ministerial inquiry into land use in their region, as long as politicians ensure they remain in play regardless of the outcome of this year’s general election.

Gisborne-Wairoa Federated Farmers president Toby Williams has largely welcomed the report, citing as particularly valuable its recommendations around land use, forestry and infrastructure. 

“There are some good recommendations there including the log levy for foresters to contribute to a fund to clean up forestry debris. Also, a return to greater catchment-based management of waterways, that would also be a good move,”  Williams said.
But AgFirst drystock consultant Peter Andrew said the report is dangerous, with recommendations that don’t stand scrutiny and could be easily softened up if turned into regulations.

“My take on [the report] is that this will put more land into trees. Conventional plantation forestry will stay in trees and not be felled, while more pastoral area will go into trees.”

But, he said, he had seen plenty of wood debris in the Tolaga Bay area that was not from harvested slash but from younger trees succumbing to land slips.

Biodiversity credits, or the East Coast Exchange, has also been mooted as a means to generate income by transitioning land to native trees, and paying similar to Emissions Trading Scheme carbon credits.

“But it comes down to labour to do these projects. It simply is not there. Other projects already in play, like blueberries, are already struggling with labour issues, and these native trees will be planted on very steep, difficult country.”

He also challenged the practicality of a log levy on foresters to clean up woody debris.

“That would be intriguing to enforce. Much of the waste on our clients’ farms is not from harvest, but from pre-harvested trees. If it was from trees planted for carbon, and never meant to be harvested, how do you charge the levy?”

Williams said regardless the report’s recommendations around shifts in land use, they would be academic without more resilient infrastructure.

“If you had a state highway near Auckland shut as often as we have State Highway 35 shut here, there would be an uprising. 

“Socio-economically, Gisborne sits at the bottom of everything. It is so hard to get here and you cannot change land use and grow the region when you cannot get here.”

The report gives infrastructure high priority, labelling past fixes to SH2 and 35 as decades’ worth of Band-Aid repairs. 

Despite Gisborne District Council’s efforts to plan for greater resilience, it has never been given the budget to exercise it. The report demands central government do more.

Williams welcomed the report calling for more local input to infrastructure repairs.

He said current contracts were a “race to the bottom” with large operators winning contracts then minimising repairs to keep margins higher on the jobs. 

But Williams was concerned, given that New Zealand is on its third forestry minister in as many years, that any election change may only result in a loss of momentum around what recommendations could be quickly put in place.

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