Reflecting on a challenging year near anniversary of Cyclone Gabrielle

15 February 2024

The Eastland Wood Council – Te Kaunihera Pororakauo Te Tairāwhiti (EWC) is reflecting on the impacts of the severe weather events of 2023, as the anniversary of Cyclone Gabrielle is marked.

Chief Executive, Philip Hope, says their thoughts first and foremost are with the community in Tairāwhiti who were deeply affected.

“The devastation from two significant weather events so close to each other left so many deeply impacted. These people are our neighbours, this is our home, and to see our community hurting was heartbreaking.

“In the immediate aftermath, our members’ staff who were unable to return to the forests got stuck in, helping remove silt and debris for whānau and neighbours and mucking in where they could.

“It’s only a drop in the bucket of the support our community has needed in the 12 months since Cyclone Gabrielle. We need to keep going and will continue to support the recovery with the skills and equipment we have.”

The industry has been continuously taking steps towards seeking out new, innovative ways to build our sustainability and mitigate risks in forests.

“For example, some of EWC’s forestry members are voluntarily undertaking increased mapping and site-specific risk assessments on high-risk sloped areas, to be able to make informed replanting decisions that consider land stability impacts,” Philip explains.

“Our forestry members also pledge to uphold EWC’s Code of Principles, to take accountability as responsible members of the Tairāwhiti community – and these actions are part of their commitment to this.”

EWC Chair, Warren Rance, is grateful for the ongoing hard work of staff and contractors.

“They are committed, they are resilient, and have continued to work hard through this difficult year – even when they were personally impacted by the cyclones. At times, there has been uncertainty, and our teams have kept going throughout it all to maintain our forests and regional infrastructure.

“Caring for the people who care for our forests is a priority too. We’ve introduced Te Kawa a Tāne in partnership with WorkSafe, iwi and other Government agencies in the past year. This initiative to improve our culture and safety is paramount for the future, and it’s directly related to the Ministerial Inquiry into Land Use.”

Warren acknowledges there is still work to be done in other areas too, and members are 100 percent committed to collaborating with partners to apply carefully considered, science-based approaches to how land is managed.

“One of those pieces of work is developing long-term mitigation strategies for land at risk of failure, and for the existing forests that present an ongoing risk of debris mobilisation, including over the next harvesting rotation.”

The risk exists because of the unique challenge our highly erodible soil presents. Our region is erosion-prone because of a combination of geology, slope steepness in many areas, landscape responding to native forest removal 150 years ago, high tectonic uplift, and weather patterns.

“But we can’t address these risks alone. Addressing this matter requires collaboration with our partners, and we need them to keep coming to the table with us to map the way forward to achieve the meaningful outcomes our community deserves,” Warren adds.

Plans are underway for the next 12 months to continue building on the work of the first year, in partnership with iwi, mana whenua, landowners and Gisborne District Council.

“We are focused on advocating for solutions, including wood processing in the region, to futureproof our industry and develop sustainable long-term strategies for land use in Tairāwhiti. We look forward to continuing our work with leaders, including central and local government, to respond to what our community needs from us in the coming year, and beyond,” concludes Philip.