Fears for forestry contractor livelihoods following Cyclone Gabrielle

20 FEBRUARY 2023

New Zealand’s forestry contractors in the Tairawhiti, Hawkes Bay, Coromandel and Northland regions are facing immense pressure and compounding challenges post-cyclone Gabrielle. Planted forest in these combined regions makes up almost 30% of the national forestry plantation.

While the full extent of damage to the forestry industry is still being assessed, reports of forestry contractors being under immense pressure are starting to come in.

Forest Industry Contractors Association CEO Prue Younger, who lives in Napier, is on the ground in one of the worst-hit areas and says livelihoods are most definitely at risk.

“Some contractors will have lost their livelihoods this week. Many are already under immense financial pressure after a few very tough years since the pandemic started. There will most certainly be some that won’t recover from this,” she says.

“Some Gisborne crews have been off since their 16 December pre-Christmas shutdown. Then Cyclone Hale hit on 10 Jan, followed by no access for trucks across broken roads, meaning lost income for two straight months.”

“Now with Gabrielle, who knows what lies ahead? There is no certainty when roads will re-open, with land stability of forestry sites and expensive gear inaccessible, lost revenue and port access and operation all compounding the issue. In Hawkes Bay the Pan-Pac mill is non-operational and the outlook isn’t good. That will have a massive impact,” she says.”

“With all these growing challenges, our primary concern is for the people in the industry. Not only are there hundreds of employees affected, but the figure gets into the thousands when you consider the wider supply chain and service providers.”

While the issue of slash in the Tairawhiti region has been dominating the forestry narrative in cyclone coverage so far, it’s a much more complex issue than what is being reported.

“While it is most definitely an issue, this is also an unprecedented once-in-a-century storm compounded by record rainfall for the entire summer. There is an assumption that all woody debris has been caused by commercial forestry, but this is not the case,” she says.

Forestry slash, harvesting practices, land use and pine plantations are generally misunderstood by the public and we look forward to the enquiry instigated by the Tairawhiti region post the January heavy rain event. That will give us all a better education and guidelines for an Industry that is still the third biggest contributor to our economy.

“This is an important issue that must be addressed and resolved. The industry needs to work together with government and local authorities to find collective solutions as effective management needs to become part of a social licence to operate while maintaining an internationally competitive industry.”

“It should be recognised that forestry contractors are contracted to do a job for which they must follow Best Practice Guidelines, Resource Consents, and forest owner guidelines. All of which are and are constantly monitored and audited by the forest owner or manager for which they are contracted to.”

More importantly, at present, FICA is working as an industry contractor representative to relocate and reposition the workforce to other regions and to other jobs, to support crisis-stricken areas, as it will be some time for many crews to get back to any significant production.