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Poor forestry practices putting health and safety at risk: Report

Woody debris from Cyclone Gabrielle (Photo Courtesy-RNZ)

 

Venu Menon
Wellington, May 13, 2023

“We are not a third world country. We heard from experts that the situation is perilous. The time to act is now. In their estimation we have five to 10 years to turn this environmental disaster around,” a report critical of forest industry practices in a flood-affected region of New Zealand has found.

The report was submitted to Forestry Minister Peeni Henare and Environment Minister David Parker on May 12.

The Ministerial Inquiry Report, assessing the damage caused by floods in the Gisborne and Wairoa districts, was prepared by a panel comprising Hekia Parata (chair), Mat McCloy and Dave Brash.

The panel was appointed in late February 2023 and followed up in March by eight large community hui and around 50 smaller hui with local organisations. There were 313 public submissions received before the closing date of 6 April 2023.

In the report’s foreword, the panel says: “While we make findings and recommendations for both districts, the urgency of the situation across Ngati Porou is unassailable. An environmental disaster is unfolding in plain sight.”

The report calls for an “immediate half to wholesale clear felling of forestry and replace it with a mosaic of staged logging.”

It recommends the transition of “extreme erosion zones out of pasture and production forestry into permanent forest,” with government support for clean-up, infrastructure and economic development in the region.

“Our recommendations reflect the fear, anger and doubt, but also the hopes and aspirations we heard at the numerous hui we held in the Gisborne and Wairoa districts,” panel chair Parata said, adding,” We believe that, if these recommendations are implemented, they will deliver the better future the people need and deserve.”

The report is scathing of the forest industry as well as local authorities. “The forest industry has lost its social licence in Tairawhiti 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.

It says forest owners must bear most of the costs involved in establishing a Woody Debris Taskforce to “lead current and future clean-up activities” in Tairawhiti and Wairoa.

The task force will oversee the maintenance and restoration of local state highways to connect communities isolated by slips and flooding, fix drinking water supplies and install “self-sufficient electricity supply systems” for smaller communities in Tairawhiti. The task force will find markets for the produce generated by these communities.

The task force will be entrusted with implementing a key recommendation made by the panel, which is to facilitate the process of converting plantations into forests.

To that end, the task force will suggest changes to forestry legislation “to restrict the use of land for plantation forestry,” and also ensure compliance with those rules.

The report recommends a credit scheme to fund projects aimed at raising “permanent indigenous forests, piloted in the region.” This will be a joint effort between government, whenua Maori landowners and the East Coast Exchange to oversee and promote sustainable land use.

The report recommends the appointment of a Commissioner who will be responsible for the resource management functions of the Gisborne District Council and to oversee long-term land use and work towards making Tairawhiti among the leading regions to implement the new forestry laws.

The panel finds current land use largely unsustainable and blames local authorities as well as failed government strategies.

“The loss of soil is perilously close to being irretrievable…… Around half of the erosion in Tairawhiti comes from highly erodible gullies, despite them only representing around two per cent of the region’s area,” the report notes.

Maori landowners of the area have received praise from the panel for their “longer-term view and a more sustainable relationship with the environment, despite many obstacles.”

Venu Menon is an Indian Newslink reporter based in Wellington.

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