EWC releases Ministerial Inquiry submission – calls for identification of land to be retired from forestry

11 APRIL 2023

The Eastland Wood Council (EWC) – Te Kaunihera Pororākau o Te Tairāwhiti representing around 80% of plantation forestry in the region has today released its submission to the Ministerial Inquiry into Land Use, which outlines a number of mitigations member forestry companies will be implementing in the short term.  Longer term, EWC have called for a detailed risk assessment process to identify land that should be converted from its current use or retired altogether.

EWC CEO, Philip Hope says: “There is no silver bullet that will immediately solve the issue of slash and sediment in Tairāwhiti, however, we recognise that forestry has lost its social license to operate, and we are committed to fixing this and being part of the solution.”

EWC’s submission outlines a range of options that need to be considered as part of a proposed detailed risk assessment of land across the region, as well as measures to be taken to support a transition in land use in the highest-risk areas.

“It is clear that in some places, we need to change what we do with our land, particularly the highest-risk hillsides, with skeletal soils that are most at risk of failure.  Cyclone Gabrielle caused damage to plantations and associated landscapes at levels not previously seen inside forestry gates, and the extent of debris movement from the collapse of younger-aged trees during recent storms is unprecedented.

“While the extremely vulnerable soils are widely acknowledged as a challenge unique to our region, the increasingly severe storms we are experiencing are not, and yet they are becoming more common.  It is time to take another look and reassess how we use some of our land,” Mr Hope said.

The scientific risk assessment proposed by EWC would consider, on a catchment-by-catchment basis, the inherent risk of the land and identify those slopes where failure cannot be mitigated.  Risks proposed for consideration include:

  • skeletal soils,  
  • areas impossible to harvest without the adequate management of debris and slash,  
  • areas that would never be harvested for safety or access reasons,  
  • areas where soil strength would fail under a heavy crop,  
  • areas that have a very high susceptibility of land-sliding and connect to waterbodies. 
EWC recommends that those areas identified as at risk should be mapped and resilience building or alternative uses identified.  Some options proposed by EWC include:
  • retirement and managed transition to indigenous vegetation,
  • transition to alternative non-production species,
  • conversion to natural capital regimes, including biodiversity and carbon,
  • relocation of dwellings or infrastructure,
  • development of engineered and vegetative mitigation measures (e.g., wetland development, living slash fences, engineered debris nets).
“Whilst the forest industry can provide some mitigation measures, at the same time it will be necessary to look at what is allowed to happen downstream as well.  That includes identifying the infrastructure that is vulnerable and redesigning that, not building on high-risk flood plains and overland flow paths and developing community-based responses to support the transition in land use, including new employment opportunities, and fair compensation for landowners,” Mr Hope said.

“Managed retreat is a subject that has been widely discussed in the wake of New Zealand’s most recent storms.  Given the increasing severity of storms and our changing climate, we need a plan for managed retreat of some of the most vulnerable land including that which is currently in production forestry.   However, we are clear that forestry still has an important role to play in Tairāwhiti, bringing economic, social, and environmental benefits to our whānau and communities.”

“In many cases, the majority of plantation forests in our region were established by the Government or under Government-funded schemes in response to past significant land erosion and slope failures. The forests were established for soil and land conservation purposes as well as to bring long-term economic well-being, and in many cases, this has been achieved.  In the face of increasingly severe weather, it is now clear that we cannot continue as we have been, and we need to take another look at what is happening on the most vulnerable land.”

“For any land conversion to be successful, this will need to be reinforced by mechanisms to support a sustainable transition to alternate land use, and long-term plans to manage the retired land. This won’t be a short-term fix, but the Eastland Wood Council is committed to collaborating with central and local government, iwi, Gisborne District Council, mana whenua, Trust Tairāwhiti and other stakeholders, to help establish reasonable expectations for the ongoing management of these highly erodible and unstable lands, especially as plantation forestry will continue to be a land use option for Tairāwhiti in the medium and long term,” Mr Hope added.