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Foresters Urged To Lift Game On Sediment

Foresters Urged To Lift Game On Sediment

The forestry industry is being urged to lift its game to ensure harvesting and earthworks meet rules designed to protect the environment from harmful sediment discharges.

The Northland Regional Council says while there’s generally a high level of compliance with forestry-related resource consent conditions in Northland, the same cannot be said for ‘permitted activities’.

Council rules allow some aspects of forestry (mainly harvesting and related earthworks) to be done without resource consent as ‘permitted activities’, provided certain criteria are met.

“Unfortunately, our experience is that most of the permitted activity work done in Northland is currently non-compliant, much of it significantly so,” the council’s Environmental Monitoring Officer – Land Use, Franco Meyer says.

Mr Meyer says the most common mistakes involve slash/wood waste material finding its way into streams and sediment discharges to water.

He says Northland is home to more than 200,000 hectares of exotic forestry and the industry is one of the region’s economic successes of recent years, continuing to grow and perform strongly despite the lingering effects of global recession.

“However, like many other industries, forestry can pose risks to our environment which is why in Northland, there are a number of rules and regulations governing the way it is carried out.”

Key among these are the Resource Management Act and sediment control rules under the Northland Regional Council’s Water and Soil Plan.

Mr Meyer says because sediment is a natural substance, few people realise just how bad a pollutant it can actually be.

“It affects downstream water quality and eventually winds up in our harbours where it can smother shellfish and other marine life.”

He says inadequate sediment control can also pose physical risks to downstream properties, especially when earth dams result and/or logs go down waterways.

Mr Meyer says problems with non-compliance are being exacerbated due to the current high demand for wood and good wood prices.

“With increasingly large amounts of timber expected to come on stream in Northland in the next few years, the non-compliance rate with permitted activity rules is an unwelcome situation both the council and the industry are keen to improve on.”

Mr Meyer says it’s vital that both parties address this issue, especially when it’s anticipated that more than 50 percent of the logging done in the region in the next five years will be under permitted activity rules.

He says the scale of forestry work means that potential adverse effects when things go wrong can be quite substantial.

“Northland’s geography and heavy, localised rainfall events mean that we can’t afford to take chances and suitable sediment controls must be in place at all times.”

However, Mr Meyer says as the Northland Regional Council investigates many sediment and erosion incidents, it is apparent that many people are unaware that such controls are even needed.

“Northland is by no means unique in this regard and staff from both the Auckland Council and Waikato Regional Council recently confirmed it’s an issue they’re confronting too. However, with so much of our region being covered in exotic forestry, this is a real problem for Northland and one we’re keen to help upskill people on.”

He says the regional council already runs sediment control workshops, but plans to offer industry-specific training later this year on forestry guidelines for earthworks and harvesting.

Mr Meyer says if people are about to embark on logging, they should seek advice from the regional council on the relevant rules before starting work.

“Ignorance of the rules is no defence and that doesn’t just apply to the person doing the work. If you as landowner allow a logger to do substandard work on your property, you are liable too…you can’t co-opt out of your liability.”

Mr Meyer says that in general, the council far prefers education over enforcement but can – and does – prosecute alleged offenders, who risk criminal convictions, fines of up to $500,000 and two years’ jail.

He says permitted activity rules for forestry can be found on the council’s website via: www.nrc.govt.nz/RWSP

Alternatively, people can email him at: FrancoM@nrc.govt.nz


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