Community leaders and Gisborne District Council have hit back angrily at claims in the forestry inquiry that locals capitulated to central government on forestry rules, making the region vulnerable to debris damage.
The eagerly awaited inquiry report puts the heat on Gisborne District Council (GDC), saying the council aided and abetted forestry’s loss of social licence to operate.
The report’s authors slated the industry for poor practice, but claimed GDC’s capitulation contributed to a permissive regulatory regime.
That claim was sharpened further, saying the council was under-resourced for monitoring of foresters’ activities, contributing to environmental damage in the region.
GDC’s mayor Rehette Stoltz has let it be known she is far from happy with the report’s claims but will not comment further until she has met with Forestry Minister Peeni Henare this week.
In a written statement GDC has the mayor expressing extreme disappointment at the panel’s findings.
“We fundamentally disagree with several recommendations in the report.
“We also have serious concerns with the unsubstantiated commentary in the report as well as commentary which is outside the scope of the inquiry’s Terms of Reference,” she says.
“I will be talking to ministers about the report and will not be commenting further until these discussions have occurred.”
The mayor’s concerns are echoed by Ruatoria local and community leader Manu Caddie, who was instrumental in leading a petition pushing for an inquiry earlier this year.
Caddie said he cannot believe the report’s claim that the council capitulated to central government regulations, making the region vulnerable to ensuing damage.
“That’s one of the most ridiculous statements in the report, that has also come with some good suggestions. I can see why the mayor is so incensed.”
He said GDC opposed the original proposal for a one-size-fits-all national environmental standard for plantation forests, and said the ensuing standards were drawn up by an industry-dominated group.
“GDC did the exact opposite of capitulating to these regulations because staff and councillors have seen the catastrophe coming with a one-size-fits-all set of national rules.”
He said the council had little choice but to follow the rules set by central government, as per the law.
Stoltz confirmed with Farmers Weekly in January that the council had beefed up its compliance team from two to nine, with more to be appointed, and had also taken legal action against forestry companies for consent breaches, including some successful prosecutions. Further prosecutions are also in the legal pipeline.
The council had also established a taskforce committed to identifying breaches and seeking compliance enforcement from the Environment Court when they were detected.
Eastland Wood Council CEO Philip Hope, however, said the partnership between GDC and industry demanded much more collaboration. He said there had been a lack of focus on enforcement.
“There has not been the resourcing there has not been the frequent inspections. We need people with good forestry expertise.
“The mayor has rejected the report, but we as an industry have to front up and meet it head-on.”
The report’s multiple recommendations cover key areas of woody debris, infrastructure, land use, forestry, iwi needs, the economy and people.
Caddie said he has mixed reactions to the report which he described overall as hard-hitting.
He said the report’s best recommendations came from those focusing on future opportunities to reduce bad land use, and transition to better use.
These included allowing GDC to have the ability to pass new rules to issue an Order of Council to immediately cease large-scale clear felling, and to order the removal of all woody debris from harvested sites.
“Those would be overnight game changers as low-hanging fruits,” he said.
Other good moves include a recommendation to create a biodiversity credits marketplace for regenerative forestry projects, and providing regional transition funding similar to what Taranaki has had to help it transition out of hydro-carbon development.