Forest owners fear they could be caught by regional councils tightening rules and regulations in the management of slash and improving water quality.
New Zealand Forest Owners’ Association chair Grant Dodson said the sector is concerned that the response of councils to Cyclone Gabrielle may not fully acknowledge the role of erodible east coast soils, the extreme nature of the storm or the environmental benefits of forestry.
Owners fear the wider commercial forestry sector will be singled out for the physical damage to the east coast landscape without acknowledging that over vast areas of the coast during the storm, pine forests stabilised soil and hillsides.
Peer-reviewed work by forestry researchers Scion, for example, showed that during the Auckland storms a commercial forest near the city intercepted or slowed the release of two-thirds of the accumulated rain that fell on the forest, reducing the flooding impact.
“Our concern is that people will not appreciate the true value of forestry and the positive impact it has around the country,” Dodson said.
“We don’t want to see the unfortunate aftermath to Cyclone Gabrielle [being to] overly restrict rules on planting trees.”
He said the National Environment Standards for Plantation Forestry have served the industry well.
Turning to water quality issues, Dodson said the draft Otago Regional Council (ORC) Land and Water Plan is proposing a planting setback for commercial forestry from 5m currently to 50m on slopes greater than 10 degrees.
For Dunedin-based City Forests, of which he is chief executive, leaving a 50m buffer on either side of a stream wider than 3m would remove 34% of the company’s productive area. For its Waipori Forest, the reduction would be 47%.
“It’ll wipe us out,” he said.
Another proposal is to restrict forest owners from spraying herbicide within 20m of waterways, a condition that is more onerous than that for the application of fertiliser by livestock or arable farmers.
“If regional councils truly want to achieve freshwater values, they need science-based rules and need to look at other land users,” Dodson said.
For example, the ORC proposal would require consent for replanting a large area of Flagstaff Forest owned by City Forests, which is on its fourth planting rotation.
Environment Canterbury is looking at the impact of forestry on water yield and on the headwaters of water catchments.
Dodson said research shows that 20% of a water catchment can be planted in forestry before there is a noticeable impact on water flow.
Dodson said forest owners want councils to acknowledge forestry’s role in improving water quality, and he would also like landowners to see it as a viable and profitable land use.