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Removing logging won’t prevent Gita damage

Tasman residents want stronger controls on forestry after logging waste and debris from collapsed pine forests swept around homes in Marahau and the Motueka Valley near Nelson when ex-tropical cyclone Gita hit two weeks ago. Source: Stuff NZ

A petition signed by more than 3500 people was due to be handed in to Tasman District Council, calling for stronger controls on the industry.

Forest and Bird regional manager, Debs Martin, said logging companies had felled trees too close to river courses in the past, and there was “some suggestion” logs had been stockpiled on skid sites.

Slopes sometimes looked as if they had been “annihilated”, with whole hillsides cut down and “quite a bit of slash” left on the ground.

The slash accumulated sediment when it was carried downhill by rain, Ms Martin said.

“We’ve seen areas and rivers that have been totally silted up, they’ve been destroyed with sand, people’s efforts of planting trees for years and years that have been buried under a metre of silt, wetlands that have disappeared and … ultimately our sea, our bays, are receiving the sediments.”

Marie Palzer describes forestry practices as “shocking” after logs and debris swept through her family’s paddocks during ex -tropical cyclone Gita.

The national environmental standard for plantation forestry, coming into effect in May, would improve some practices, she said.

“But there are some areas where we think the national standards probably don’t go far enough.”

Ms Martin called on the council to monitor and enforce compliance, and reconsider if hillsides should be zoned for forestry use, with regards to climate change.

Some storm-damage in the wake of ex-cyclone Gita could have been avoided if forestry practices were improved, residents say.

She planned to hand the petition to Tasman mayor, Richard Kempthorne, at the council offices in Richmond. However, the council is warning stopping timber operations in the hills around slip-affected communities near Abel Tasman National Park won’t guarantee an end to the kind of damage caused by ex-cyclone Gita.

Tasman’s deputy mayor Tim King said the region was “not a benign environment” and warned that “whatever we put in place and whatever national regulation there is, is not going to make that go away.”

He said it was important to point out the scale of ex-cyclone Gita, the volume of rainfall, and the nature of the “Separation Point Granites”; a strip of granitic bedrock that stretched 100 kilometres south from the Abel Tasman National Park.

“For as long as people have lived in Nelson, this land has eroded, collapsed, under whatever land use that happened to have been in at the time,” he said, referring to floods in 1877, when 300 acres of native bush near Ngatimoti “fell into the Motueka Valley”.

Slips and debris flows on February 20 had not only occurred on pine forest sites and recently logged land, but in areas of native bush, regenerating land use, and pasture.

People had to be conscious of that when they moved in to the area and built houses, he said.

Some logging waste was already cleared away from the major forestry companies’ skid sites by Nelson-based wood energy supplier, Azwood, Mr King pointed out.

“Whether it is practical and economically feasible to remove every last vestige of wood from a harvested hill, I don’t think the council can just impose that requirement, without working through whether that’s actually a pragmatic solution.”

If forestry land wasn’t to be used for forestry, Mr King questioned what else it would be used for.

Pine forests that had been planted couldn’t be left to “fall down on their own,” Mr King maintained, because “whatever comes off it will be immensely greater in volume than what’s left after harvesting.”

The new standard would improve things like restrictions on planting into gullies and waterways, and potentially help introduce native trees, but it would also make it harder to change species; an “unintended consequence” of trying to stop foresters converting from radiata pine to douglas fir, he said.

While he was confident local industry operators would co-operate with the national standard, he was concerned the council wouldn’t have the resources it needed to meet new requirements, like quickly assessing companies’ harvesting plans.

Nelson company, Azwood, removed a “very small portion” of waste residue from harvested forests and turned it into wood fuel, mainly bought by a local mill.

If more businesses were subsidised to change from coal to wood fuel, the company would be able to remove more residue from the forest, spokesman Ben Crawford said.

Dr Sean Weaver from the Takaka-based social enterprise charity, Ekos, believed the council needed to help local logging companies change the “standard practice” of harvesting large areas at a time.

“When you harvest trees in a clear fell manner, and especially on erodable land like the Separation Point Granite … then you rapidly increase the risk of major sedimentation, including big logs and forestry slash.”

The national standard would not bring the necessary change quickly enough for people in areas like Marahau and Ligar Bay near Tarakohe, Mr Weaver said.

He suggested “continuous canopy plantations” become the norm in areas around Marahau, as in Europe, where smaller areas were planted in stages. Leaving setbacks of up to 100 metres of permanent native forestry in plantation areas wouldn’t “fix everything”, but would reduce the risk of small and medium landslide events, and lower the risk of some larger ones too.