13 Jun 2018

East Coast forestry: Replanting 'required' under contracts

5:47 pm on 13 June 2018

Contractual obligations making it hard for forestry owners to pull out of the East Coast could leave farmers stuck with the hill plantations that have led to massive damage.

Tolaga Bay, heavy rain forced piles of wood onto farmland.

Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

Farmers in Tolaga Bay north of Gisborne are seething after thousands of tonnes of forest debris were swept onto their land during two successive rainstorms in a week.

The material smothered some of their fields and destroyed fences.

The government has had to provide financial support to the region for damage costing an estimated $10 million, and the damage has led to calls for forestry to be reduced in scale or even abandoned entirely.

But Peter Weir of the Forest Owners Association said that was easier said than done.

"We have some constraints at the moment," Mr Weir said.

"We can't simply walk away from the land and abandon it because that would trigger huge deforestation liabilities under the emissions trading scheme," he said.

"Secondly, there is a harvesting condition in the resource consent we got from Gisborne District Council that requires us to replant at least one thousand stems per hectare."

Mr Weir said replanting with forest was required under an entirely separate contractual undertaking, dating back to a forest scheme devised by the government after Cyclone Bola in 1989.

"It is actually a condition of the East Coast Forestry Grant - which was a grant to establish radiata pine plantations on highly erodible land after Cyclone Bola - that after harvesting it would be replanted in the same crop."

He said this and the emissions cost undermined suggestions that the land be re-planted in mānuka, apart from the subsequent loss of income for forestry companies.

And he added there was a further prohibition on burning forest debris - the aim was to leave it on the ground to rot - and that was another condition of the companies' resource consent.

In the latest floods, these debris slid downhill onto farmland.

Some farmers met forestry company owners on Monday, but told RNZ the meeting left them disillusioned.

Hikurangi Forest Farms general manager Ian Brown said they had different expectations from the meeting.

"So the meeting from our point of view was to understand what the issues were, if we could solve any immediate issues and what the longer-term issues were.

"It wasn't to give any answers or to promise him anything at that point in time and certainly the chairperson was sticking to that agenda.

Mr Brown said they had been working in the area for more than 20 years and they intended to continue their business there.

Gisborne mayor Meng Foon said staff were hard at work trying to assess the cost and the practicalities of cleaning up forest debris.

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