7 Jun 2018

Is this the end for forestry on the East Coast?

From Checkpoint, 5:09 pm on 7 June 2018

One of the country's leading forestry service providers says a substantial amount of forest land in the East Coast may need to be retired.

Logs wash up on Tologa Bay beach after flooding in the area.

Logs wash up on Tologa Bay beach after flooding in the area. Photo: Photo / John Boynton

It comes as torrential rain on Monday washed 1 million tonnes of forest debris - known as slash - onto roads, bridges and properties in Tolaga Bay, which the Gisborne Council estimates will cost up to $10 million to clean up.

Forestry Minister Shane Jones has called on companies to step up today, but at least one company said the answer may be pulling out of the East Coast altogether.

Mr Jones fired a warning shot to forestry companies and to forestry service provider PF Olsen in particular.

"Those photos have certainly floored me and the size of the deluge and the extent of the damage, I just don't think that the forest consultants, the Olsens of the world, can walk away from that."

The Gisborne District Council said just who would pay for the clean up was yet to be worked out.

But Mr Jones said the forestry companies needed to front up.

"I haven't heard a spokesman from Olsens yet contribute and that disappoints me because they're meant to be New Zealand's foremost forestry consultants group, so I'm going to ring them and find out why they're so conspicuously silent."

PF Olsen is one of New Zealand's leading forestry service providers.

Chief executive Peter Clark said it wasn't a great look and acknowledged it was an industry issue.

"Solving it is not so simple," he said.

Mr Clark said the deluge of more than 200 millilitres of rain in less than 24 hours caused the land and soil to slip away forcing the logs to sweep away everything in their path.

"Solving that, I think long term, some of this land has just got to be retired and probably retired from pasture use as well as from productive forest use."

Mr Jones said he was in no doubt forestry practices needed to improve.

"If there had have been permanent stands of trees along the waterways, permanent stands of not only riparian left in the forest so that not everything was clear felled, a lot of that debris, I'm picking, would not have made it to the waterways."

Mr Clark said he hadn't heard from Mr Jones today and said while new environmental standards dictated riparian planting, nothing could have prepared the area for the amount of rain on Monday.

It wouldn't matter what sort of cover there had been on that land, it would have failed because it is some of the most erosion prone land in the world, he said.

"This is very weak weak rock and soils and back when it was native forest, before it was cleared for pasture, there are records of massive inundation's of native logs down on Gisborne Poverty Bay flats and on the beach.

"So the riparians yes they'll help to an extent in certain storms, but this was a biggy and the whole land has given way and I don't think it matters if you've got a riparian or not in that situation, it's going to go."

Mr Clark said retiring a substantial amount of forestry land would have a huge impact on the Tolaga Bay area.

"At the extreme you'd say red zone is a no go area for production forestry, we know it's no good for pasture we've already learnt that and so that's a massive area of the East Cape and East Coast.

"That has implications because the whole of the Gisborne East Coast areas economic base is land based, it's farming and forestry, now if you take that away, what does the town live on?"

Gisborne District Council chief executive Nadine Thatcher-Swan said logging companies were helping farmers clean up, but they were still trying to work out what do with with all the debris.

"It's very difficult to stockpile and burn wood in the middle of winter, but they're looking at various options, the whole area is a flood plane, so we don't want to pile them, and then we have the issue of them all being cleared out.

"There looks to be a million tonne of logs, so we're yet to just work through all the logistics around that."

Ms Thatcher-Swan said it could take up to six months to determine whether logging companies operating in the Tolaga Bay area had breached their resource consents.

PF Olsen chief executive Peter Clark said forestry owners had been meeting to discuss the clean up and who pays.  

"Only one of our forest owners that we know about at this stage was a contributor to ... this debris coming down onto the Tolaga Bay area and I've had a talk to that person and yes they're willing to assist in a small way.

"But they're also looking at their insurance policies, whether that'll respond or not is unclear, you know insurance companies are calling these kinds of events acts of God and if the forest owner has done everything to best practice and not broken any of the rules, you'd have to say as an act of God, it's up to the affected person, the landowner, to have their insurance kick in in those cases."

Mr Jones said Tolaga Bay was a major hazardous event and Cabinet would be briefed on the situation next week.