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Local Government Insufficiently Resourced To Cope With Forest Slash Problem

Forest Owners say the just announced regulations to deal with forest slash will result in a mishmash of regulations which will lead to even less forest planting and compromise forest carbon sequestration to meet climate change targets.

FOA President, Grant Dodson, says when Forestry Minister Peeni Henare announces that local government will be in charge of determining whether landowners are allowed to plant any trees on their land, he is inviting them to restrict forest planting and arbitrating on a landowner's choice on how to use their own land.

“We’ve seen with anti-forest councils, such as Wairoa, that a few local prejudices can inhibit farmers from planting any trees and so not contributing economically and environmentally to the region as much as they could.”

“This announcement has come with a pre-election rush. We are told the new rules will be in effect within a month, which is way too quick to develop the risk assessments and management tools which landowners and councils will have to comply with,” Grant Dodson says.

He says that foresters are well aware that forest slash can be an issue on land which is particularly erosion prone and hit with storms of unprecedented severity driven by climate change.

“We are putting a lot of work into ways which together can reduce the risk of post-harvest wood going down rivers, from different species of tree to using as much waste as we can for biofuels.”

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“But there will be debris left after harvest and we need to get as much we can secure or remove it. That removal has to be practical and safe.”

Councils don’t have the health and safety operational knowledge and capacity to make that assessment.”

“An objective assessment of the wood in the rivers following Cyclone Gabrielle showed forest slash, certainly in Hawke’s Bay, was not the reason for most of the damage.”

“A survey of the wood at Wairoa found only two percent of the debris was forest slash. Most of it was willows, poplars, and native trees. Likewise, at Waikare River further south of Wairoa, which has been making the news only this week, also only two percent of the wood on the beach is forest slash.”

“The real aim should be to protect downstream roads and properties from damage, whatever the source of that risk. That means tools and a capacity to remove whole trees of any species, before they can cause damage.”

Grant Dodson says the recent Ministerial Inquiry into land use and forest slash in Tairāwhiti following Cyclone Gabrielle showed that farmland erosion was an ongoing and substantial problem.

“Only more trees will fix that. Yet the thrust of this government statement is the fewer trees the better. We need a proper process to learn the lessons of Gabrielle raised by the Parata Inquiry, or we could finish with dangerous outcomes.”

“The evidence is that forests slow floodwaters. During the Auckland Anniversary floods catchment studies at Mahurangi and Titoki forests show that despite extraordinary volumes of rain, the soil was never saturated. The more looked-after trees the less the damage.”

Grant Dodson says he acknowledges the progress reflected in the government statement of the One Year Review of the National Environmental Standard – Plantation Forestry (now renamed Commercial Forestry) particularly the enforcing of environmental rules for carbon only forests.

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