Forest Owners back more trees for Tairāwhiti

Forest Owners Association

12 APRIL 2023

The Forest Owners Association has told the Ministerial Inquiry into land use in Tairāwhiti, that the region’s future has to include more trees for land stability.  But it appreciates forest practices also have to improve with increasing land use risks from climate change.

The FOA has just released its submission to the Inquiry, saying it’s looking for solutions to the wood and silt damage to downstream areas from Cyclones Hale and Gabrielle earlier in the year.

FOA President, Grant Dodson, says technical assessments show that the two cyclones shifted 100 million tonnes of soil in the region, with half of that getting into waterways.

“Foresters lost areas of healthy growing trees up to ten years old in landslides.  We’d not experienced that before.  Climate change has altered the rules.”

“FOA, and the Eastland Wood Council in particular, are focussed on solutions in our submissions, and these must provide incomes for people in the region.  We’d expect the future of Gisborne and northern Hawke’s Bay for a long time to come will continue to be based on forestry and farming.”

“Let’s make it clear though, that the terrain and remoteness make both forestry and hill country farming in this region a very difficult enterprise.  Accelerating climate change makes it even more difficult.”

“Stabilising the landscape to prevent woody debris flows will take decades, and it’s unrealistic to expect it to ever be completely achieved.”

“But there are short-term hopes that both land uses will be able to process more of their raw material output in the region itself, using wood fuel which would otherwise cause risk left on the harvest sites,” Grant Dodson says.

“So long as the economics can be worked out, we could eventually get to where no energy source needs to be imported into Tairāwhiti ever again.”

“For forestry itself, we would anticipate a reallocation away from where some of the higher risk plantation forests are.”

“On one hand, we expect a government-supported managed withdrawal of forest harvesting in the more vulnerable slopes and weaker soil geologies.”

“On the other hand, the same increase in slip vulnerability on farmland would most likely lead to planting pine forests and other land stability plantings on much of that land, so long as harvest risk was reduced.”

Grant Dodson says he’s cautious about the enthusiasm to plant large areas in native trees.

“Without doubt, there will be native tree planting for land stabilisation and biodiversity.”

“But it has to be realised that indigenous tree establishment is expensive, and it’s difficult for slow-growing native trees to become established, with the region predicted to have more droughts and ongoing storm damage from now on.”

“And, unlike with plantation forestry and farming, planting native trees doesn’t produce an income product.  Even their carbon sequestration capacity is also insignificant until many decades into the future.”

Grant Dodson says he hopes the Ministerial Inquiry will set up a structured and wide-ranging plan for the reform of land use, the downstream economy and more resilient transport infrastructure in Tairāwhiti, which will compel future governments to give their support too.

“Land users themselves can only do so much.  There are two other vital components in making these ambitions work.  One is committed engagement by the central government.  The other necessary factor is the close involvement and support of the local communities.”

Grant Dodson
Forest Owners Association President