Buzz from the Beehive
Pressure had been mounting on the East Coast long before Cyclones Hale and Gabrielle for the Gisborne District Council to tighten forestry regulations after tonnes of logs and debris clogged waterways during flooding.
Extensive flooding in Marlborough and Tasman last year fortified concerns about the laxity of environmental controls on exotic forestry.
Environmental Defence Society chief executive Gary Taylor wrote for Newsroom that the old method of allowing large scale clear-felling at harvest on erosion-prone land is no longer fit-for-purpose in a climate changing world.
Having large swathes of hill country denuded of stabilising vegetation for several years between forestry cycles is exacerbating run-off volumes and flood velocity, as well as vastly increasing sediment loads entering the coastal marine area. Sediment smothers and kills marine life.
On January 23 this year – when the mountains of forestry debris littering Gisborne beaches following Cyclone Hale were being cleared – Federated Farmers and the community pressed for an urgent Government inquiry.
More than 5000 people by then had signed a petition calling for an inquiry into how forestry land was harvested and stabilised. It was presented to the Gisborne District Council later that week.
Forestry Minister Stuart Nash at that time said he was open to a review into forestry slash caused by Cyclone Hale.
He wasn’t bursting to initiate an inquiry, it seemed, but he said:
“What we may look to do is turn more land into permanent forestry as opposed to forest that is harvested, so that is where I would support a review but not a review of forestry in general.”
A few days later, the death of a 12-year-old boy on a slash-covered beach in the Gisborne region amplified the call for action.
As RNZ reported, by then almost 9000 people had signed the petition demanding an independent inquiry into the rules on land use in Tairāwhiti
“… with a focus on activities (and lack of activity) contributing to erosion, sedimentation and woody debris deposits in waterways and the marine coastal environment”.
Before the clean-up after Cyclone Hale had been completed, Cyclone Gabrielle had cut a more devastating path through the East Coast and several other regions in the North island.
And today – at long last – the Government announced:
Inquiry to investigate forestry slash and land use after cyclone
A Ministerial inquiry will be held into land use causing woody debris, including forestry slash, and sediment-related damage in Tairāwhiti/Gisborne and Wairoa.
This was posted on the Beehive website on a busy day for Ministers. They have announced –
New booster plan in time for winter
All New Zealanders aged 30 and over will be able to access the new COVID bivalent booster from April as part of the Government’s plan to keep Kiwis safe and take pressure off our health system.
Government breaks ground on Auckland Light Rail
Just a year after confirming the preferred option for Auckland Light Rail designed to re-shape and futureproof Auckland’s transport network, the Government is marking the start of physical works for the project, Transport Minister Michael Wood has announced.
Legislation clarifying management of returning offenders passes to improve public safety
A Bill ensuring the ongoing management and monitoring of returning offenders to improve public safety has passed today with strong support from across Parliament.
Views sought on future-proofing Christchurch’s transport infrastructure
Residents of Greater Christchurch are being asked to share their views on how we can futureproof the city’s transport infrastructure, Transport Minister Michael Wood has announced.
Cost of living transport support package now extended
The Road User Charges (Temporary RUC Reduction Scheme) Amendment Bill has passed all stages in Parliament today, delivering extra cost of living support to families and businesses says Transport Minister Michael Wood.
Trade Minister to travel to Japan to drive export growth
Trade Minister Damien O’Connor will travel to Tokyo tomorrow to meet with Japanese counterparts and engage with New Zealand businesses in market as part of New Zealand’s 2023 export growth agenda.
The announcement from Stuart Nash is that the two-month Ministerial inquiry into land use causing woody debris, including forestry slash, and sediment-related damage in Tairāwhiti/Gisborne and Wairoa will help address the impacts of weather events such as cyclones Hale and Gabrielle and earlier events
It will investigate past and current land-use practices and the impact of woody debris including forestry slash and sediment on communities, livestock, buildings and the environment. It will also look at associated economic drivers and constraints.
The inquiry members are former government minister and Gisborne resident Hekia Parata (Chair), former regional council chief executive Bill Bayfield, and forestry engineer Matthew McCloy.
Nash’s tone had changed since he made the previous statement recorded in this article.
“Woody debris and sediment are particular issues for these communities following storms. More than 10,000 people in Tairāwhiti have petitioned for land use to be better managed. This inquiry is responding to these very real concerns,” Forestry Minister Stuart Nash said.
The inquiry will investigate storm damage and its causes, current practices and regulatory and policy settings.
Nash isn’t the only Minister involved.
“The panel’s recommendations, expected by the end of April, will assist local and central government respond to the severe weather events we are experiencing in New Zealand,’’ Environment Minister David Parker said.
The panel will make recommendations to improve land use including changes needed to practices and regulation at central and local government levels. This can include consideration of forestry practices, Resource Management Act plans and National Direction.
For example, the National Environmental Standards for Plantation Forestry and the Tairāwhiti and Wairoa District Resource Management Plans.
Parker said decisions on prosecutions are a matter for the local councils under the Resource Management Act.
In 2018 the Gisborne District Council prosecuted five forestry companies for poor forestry harvesting & management. Judge Dwyer at the time imposed fines ranging from $124,700 to $379,500.
That was some five years ago, which enables us to gauge the import of what the press statement said next:
The Government has since moved to increase the maximum available fines for environmental offences and introduce new tools to assist enforcement as part of the resource management reforms now before parliament and due to pass into law before the election.
This will increase the maximum fines from the current $300,000 to $1 million for natural persons and from $600,000 to $10 million for companies. It is also proposed insurance is no longer able to be used to pay infringement or prosecution fines.
This will increase the maximum fines?
So the Government hasn’t done it yet, then.
National leader Christopher Luxon says forestry companies need to be held to account for damage caused by their waste during extreme weather events.
Waatea News has posted a report headed Luxon calls for forestry slash prosecutions, which says Luxon – in his first major speech in the reopened parliament – called for legislation on the matter.
“It’s the only business, the only sector I know which gets to internalise the benefits and to socialise the cost and we need to revisit practises, we need to revisit penalties and prosecutions as a result,” Mr Luxon said.
Newshub reports Luxon was “pretty supportive of having an independent review” around forestry.
“It’s the only sector I’ve seen that’s actually been able to essentially generate revenue and socialize the cost and if any other sector or any other business treated its own waste in that way, that would be utterly unacceptable,” he said.
“You just cannot have that happening every two years, and so either our penalties aren’t tough enough and the consequences aren’t being tough enough or people aren’t being enforced or held accountable enough, but we’ve got no tolerance for that.”
ACT’s Environment spokesperson Simon Court says his party is proposing a change to resource management that would ensure accountability lies with those responsible, and property owners are spared further pain.
People on the East Coast have had their private property ruined by debris from culled trees, Court said.
ACT’s approach to resource management would mean these people are regarded as victims in this situation and they should be properly compensated for loss of enjoyment of their property.
The responsibility for the damage incurred by slash would lie with forestry companies, which would be responsible for finding a solution and dispose of the debris before situations like this occur.
Green Party environmental spokesperson Eugenie Sage said the news of a Ministerial inquiry into forestry slash and land use in Te Tarāwhiti/Gisborne and Wairoa is welcome, but the forestry sector should have to compensate councils, landowners and communities for the enormous damage caused by land and logging management which has generated so much slash and sediment.
“Forestry companies should not be able to offload the costs of their operations onto councils for bridge and infrastructure repair, farmers whose crops have been flattened and land is now unusable, and communities who are confronted with tonnes of slash clogging local rivers and beaches,” she says.
The Government and the Inquiry must ensure the forestry industry provides compensation for the damage to land, infrastructure and the environment that the slash has caused.
Sage further said the Government must ensure that people and communities, rivers, land and beaches are not having to bear the costs of an industry which is 70% overseas owned.
2 thoughts on “News splash from Nash: he is taking a lash (at long last) at slash – but it’s not so flash Govt will wait for inquiry’s guidance”
Well, it has taken all parties a bloody long time to wake up to something that has been so obvious for so long. And it must apply to all New Zealand — remember what happened in Nelson just a couple or so years ago ?
Obviously the hundreds of thousands, quite possibly millions of tonnes of sediment that has washed off treeless farms and devastated downstream infrastructure, communities and livelihoods, and which in time may come to be understood as the much greater cause of widespread damage in many places (have a look at before and after satellite images), will attract sympathy for the farmers along with a recovery subsidy, while forest owners, many of whom will have lost many millions of dollars in flattened forest crops from this extraordinary event, will continue to cop ill informed opprobrium, draconian new regulations, and court summonses.