Production forestry should be banned in extreme erosion zones around Wairoa and Gisborne and limits should be introduced around how much of a forest can be felled in a single year, a damning Government inquiry has found.
The Government commissioned a ministerial inquiry into land use and forestry slash after Cyclone Gabrielle, concentrating on the Wairoa and Tairāwhiti (Gisborne) regions.
Severe slips and erosion during the cyclone resulted in woody debris and silt washing onto land and down waterways in those regions, causing significant damage.
More than 10,000 people from Tairāwhiti petitioned for land use to be better managed prior to the inquiry.
Controversially, the bulk of Hawke’s Bay, including the wider Hastings and Napier areas, were not included in the inquiry.
That was despite large amounts of woody debris, including pine, washing down rivers and causing destruction in those areas as well.
Findings from the two-month inquiry were released in a report on Friday with 50 recommendations. That report has been titled Outrage to Optimism.
The report stated “forestry practices must adapt to better reflect the fragile landscape”.
“We are not a third-world country. We heard from experts that the situation is perilous and the time to act is now. In their estimation we have five to 10 years to turn this environmental disaster around,” the report read.
Tairāwhiti experienced greater and more-widespread impacts and damage than Wairoa from forestry according to the report, which was particularly critical of Gisborne District Council and its lack of regulation.
“The panel found that the forest industry has lost its social licence in Tairāwhiti due to a culture of poor practices — facilitated by the Gisborne District Council’s capitulation to the permissiveness of the regulatory regime — and its under-resourced monitoring and compliance,” the report read.
“Together, these factors have caused environmental damage, particularly to land and waterways, and they have put the health and safety of people and their environment at risk.”
The recommendations from the inquiry (for the two regions) include a call for production forestry to be banned in extreme erosion zones around Wairoa and Gisborne.
Those areas would be classified “purple zone” and be off-limits for production forestry under the recommendation.
“This land must be returned to permanent forest – preferably native – which would have the advantage of biodiversity co-benefits.”
Work still needs to be done to map which areas would be classified “purple zone”.
Another recommendation was for an immediate halt to wide-scale clear-felling of forests in the two regions.
The report stated large-scale felling of forests in any given catchment can lead to large amounts of woody debris and sediment being washed away and causing damage, as seen in the Uawa catchment of Gisborne.
“There should be a limit to the total area within a catchment that can be clear-felled each year. We suggest that an appropriate area is no more than 5 per cent of a catchment per year,” the report read.
The recommendation said the cap could also be set at no more than 40ha of a catchment being felled each year.
Members of the inquiry panel included Hekia Parata, Matt McCloy and Dave Brash. The inquiry received more than 300 submissions.
“Our recommendations reflect the fear, anger and doubt, but also the hopes and aspirations we heard at the numerous hui we held in the Gisborne and Wairoa districts,” panel chairwoman Parata said.
“We believe that, if these recommendations are implemented, they will deliver that better future the people need and deserve.”
The report was delivered to Environment Minister David Parker and Forestry Minister Peeni Henare on Friday.
“Ministers will now promptly and carefully consider the report and make decisions on its recommendations, to be announced as soon as possible,” Parker said.