3 Feb 2023

Tairāwhiti farmers back review into forestry management of erosion prone land

6:32 pm on 3 February 2023
Tim Jefferd standing at the wall of wood on his farm boundary.

Tim Jefferd standing at the wall of wood on his farm boundary. Photo: RNZ/Maja Burry

Flood-hit farmers in Tairāwhiti are backing government plans for an independent review into management practices on erosion-prone land in the district.

In January, the East Coast was battered by Cyclone Hale, which caused significant flooding and dragged forestry debris down from hillsides, damaging farms, properties and infrastructure.

Nearly a month from the event, a massive "wall of wood" estimated to be the size of a rugby field is still engulfing part of Tim and Lucy Jefferd's farm in Tolaga Bay.

"This most recent wood that's come down, you don't even know where you'd start in terms of cleaning it up, or even machines getting into certain areas to access it," Tim Jefferd said.

Wigan Bridge on Tauwhareparae Road out of Tolaga Bay became clogged with woody debris on Tuesday before it has now been cleared.

Wigan Bridge on Tauwhareparae Road out of Tolaga Bay became clogged with woody debris last month. Photo: Gisborne District Council / Murry Cave

Jefferd said there was months of work ahead. As well as clearing debris from paddocks and waterways, fences needed to be repaired and flood damaged paddocks needed to be resown.

Earlier this week, Forestry Minister Stuart Nash and several other MPs visited the region and at a meeting with farming, iwi, and local council representatives outlined plans for a review of land use management practices.

Farmer Tim Jefferd welcomed the review and said he was still supportive of forestry in the area, however management practices did need to change.

"[There needs to be] a pretty good hard look at the management that's going on around harvest management, and in waterway management to avoid avoid us dealing with this problem... and other East Coast townships dealing with all this."

Federated Farmer's Gisborne president Toby Williams said on top of the review, farmers also wanted to see more immediate measures put in place so there were not the same problems in the next big storm.

Debris dams or slash traps could be part of the solution, to help stop waterways from becoming overwhelmed, he said.

"It costs money to be dealing with these trees more and doing things differently, but at the moment our communities are the ones paying the price."

Toby Williams in Tolaga Bay.

Toby Williams in Tolaga Bay. Photo: RNZ/Maja Burry

Williams said this was the fourth time in 18 months some farmers had been hit by severe flooding and they were exhausted.

Forest Owners Association chief executive David Rhodes said his industry was on board with the review.

Rhodes said some of the damage caused by Cyclone Hale was not forestry related, but the problems that were caused by forestry debris were not good for the industry's image.

"It's definitely tarnished our image and we have to live with that.... could we have done better? Yes, we could," Rhodes said.

"So we have to take that on board. We have to accept that and we're gonna have to change and I'm confident that that change is happening."

Forestry companies were committed to working with the community on the clean-up and some crews had already been helping on impacted farms, Rhodes said.

Enhanced Taskforce Green workers to join clean-up

The Ministry for Social Development (MSD) said 20 workers, who had been selected for the Enhanced Taskforce Green programme, would be mobilised in the area to support clean-up efforts later this month.

The taskforce is co-ordinated by MSD and offers jobseeker paid work doing things like clearing silt and moving some of the debris.

The ministry's regional commissioner, Karen Bartlett, said $500,000 had been committed to the programme.

Bartlett said the initiative provided job opportunities as well as a boost to flood-impacted land owners.

"Getting a job getting paid, developing some skills, developing connections, both with their community and with employers.... It's kind of a silver lining for what is not a great situation."

Bartlett said two crews, comprising of 10 workers, would be receiving some training next week, with boots on the ground in flood damaged areas from 13 February onwards.

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