12 Jun 2018

Forestry companies ‘committed to do our fair share’

From Checkpoint, 5:25 pm on 12 June 2018

President of the Forest Owners Association Peter Weir expects a raft of changes within the industry, he says, following criticism about the way it handles debris. 

Residents in the Gisborne region are calling for the industry to be held accountable after logging debris carried in floodwaters, caused million tonnes of logs and forest debris to be dumped on farms, in rivers and on beaches over the last week. 

Flood-hit farmers around Tolaga Bay have demanded an immediate halt to all forestry in the area, until a government inquiry into the industry was carried out.

Forest Owners Association president Peter Weir, who is also the environment manager for a Gisborne forestry company, said the debris was from trees harvested five years ago.

He told Checkpoint not much could be done to help with the clean-up until roads were restored.

"We have offered housing to people who are dislocated. We are offering our counselling services to such people. We would love to get down with our machinery out of the forest to help the clean up but there is a couple of large holes in the district council road where landslides have come down on farms," Mr Weir said.

"Farmers don't want our heavy machinery on their paddocks because the paddocks are sodden and we can absolutely understand that. So we all have to collectively take a breath and wait til this dries out a bit."

Mr Weir said it was the first he had heard of the farmers' request for $100 million to clean up the mess but his company was committed to help in other ways.

"Our company has commited to make excavators available for as long as it takes to do the clean up but as I say we have to wait for the sun to come out and the paddocks to dry out a bit before we can do that."

In response to the risk of legal action from farmers, Mr Weir said their actions followed rules already set out and didn't see the potential for a case to brought forward.

"Under the resource management act, our company had a complete audit in our forest eight weeks ago, a two-day audit, there were no issues raised ... I'm not really seeing the grounds for such things."

He said they continued to maintain and clear debris traps for four or five years after harvesting but the burst of rain had caused issues in those catchments.

"Our debris traps were completely overwhelmed and ripped out, this was a big event. This was bigger than Cyclone Bola but incredibly localised and in one catchment."

Another forest with a debris trap 15km away had not experienced that same damage, according to Mr Weir.

He said he expected an inquiry and more changes to rules to come through after these events, even though stricter rules on cleaning up forestry debris had already come in last month.