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Pure Advantage Calls For Urgent Enquiry Into Management Of Exotic Plantations

Poor forestry management practices again lead to extensive damage in Tairāwhiti

“At this rate of loss and damage there will be no future in the Waiapu Valley and the wider East Coast for our tamariki and mokopuna. We are failing in our roles as kaitieki,” says Graeme Atkins Kaitieki Ranger

Raukumara Pae Maunga Restoration Project and 2020 Loder Cup winner Dept. of Conservation.

It's time for an urgent enquiry into the management of exotic plantations in Aotearoa New Zealand.

In recent cases taken by Gisborne District Council, sediment, and slash (left after harvesting) from exotic tree harvesting sites was established as a major factor in the damage that occurred during the June 2018 storm in Tolaga Bay and surrounding areas. Five plantation forestry companies were found guilty and fined for breaching resource consent conditions.

During the recent storm in Tairāwhiti, poor forestry management practices again led to extensive damage. Critical public infrastructure was destroyed; highly productive agricultural and horticultural land washed away or buried; houses, fences and sheds knocked over; people's lives and dreams upended, and the impacts on marine ecosystems are massive.

Without doubt, senior managers in the companies growing and managing exotic tree plantations are aware of the impacts of poor harvesting practices, but at the end of the day they need to make a return from the trees for their shareholders, many of whom are offshore. On the ground, old habits are proving difficult to change.

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Poor land management decisions made 30-40 years ago have left a substantial legacy of environmental, economic, and social damage. While poor plantation management practices have contributed to the recent storm damage, the siting of exotic tree plantations on steep erodible hill country is also an important factor. This is being exacerbated by the increasing frequency and intensity of storm events, all driven by global climate change.

Government is currently undertaking a review of the National Environmental Standards (NES) for Plantation Forestry. A tightening up of the rules around harvesting and especially the management of sites post-harvest is essential.

Rules also need to be set that recognise the situation in regions like Tairāwhiti, and likely future climate conditions. It may well be that for some catchments or regions, clear-fell harvesting should be totally prohibited, as the risks are just too great.

In reviewing the NES for Plantation Forestry, the government must attend above all to the interests of local communities and landscapes, rather than those of the forestry companies. At present, ratepayers and taxpayers are subsidising the environmental and social damage caused by poor forestry practices, and they are no longer willing to do so.

The need to consider legacy effects is not restricted to exotic tree plantations being used for timber production but also to carbon farming with pine trees. There has been a massive explosion around the country of land planted in monocultures of primarily radiata pine for carbon credits.

While these carbon crops may earn good income for their owners for 20-30 years, they will leave a substantial unwanted legacy of environmental, economic, and social effects for future generations to deal with.

As they age, monoculture crops of pine trees grown for carbon will become sources of fire, disease, and animal and plant pests (including the planted exotic conifers themselves) impacting adjacent private and public land including public conservation land and exotic plantations used for timber production.

These legacy effects are likely to increase with climate change as we are already seeing with fire frequency and fungal disease outbreaks. Again, local communities and landscapes will carry the costs of short-sighted forestry practices, driven by a well-heeled and powerful lobby.

Native forests are climate resilient, and far superior to engineered plantations or infestations of weedy exotic trees in sequestering carbon over time. They protect and build topsoil, cleanse waterways, and provide a home for thousands of native species of plants, animals, fungi, and bacteria.

We urgently need to reframe the forest strategy in Aotearoa to focus on Nature-based Solutions with native forests if we are to address the many environmental challenges we face, especially the biodiversity crisis and climate change. In regions like Tairāwhiti, the current approach is causing widespread social and environmental damage.

Pure Advantage supports the call proposed by EDS for an independent enquiry into the management of exotic plantations in New Zealand, something that is long overdue, and Minister Nash needs to take urgent action.

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