Minister: Floods should be wake-up call

Wednesday 13 Jun 2018

Forestry slash reminder economic boon not without problems - They've been talking about the "wall of wood" for decades in Gisborne. But the wall of timber that wreaked havoc as it washed down the district's hills during bad weather this week, was not what they had in mind.

The forestry slash – scrap timber, branches and off cuts left behind in a felling area – that crashed through houses near Tolaga Bay early Monday morning was a malevolent reminder to locals that any economic boon from forestry will not be cost-free.

At least three houses were lost. Stock was lost. Bridges were damaged, paddocks were drowned in mud and debris and kilometres of fences were damaged. Among the worst affected was the Mitchell family, who were forced to clamber onto their roof as their home began to flood in the early hours of the morning. The house is a write-off, their possessions are gone.

Identity wrapped up in industry - Timber is big business on the North Island's East Coast. The proverbial wall of wood is forecast to hit the region in the next few years, as trees planted by small-scale growers in the 1990s begin to be felled. The volume of logs going through Gisborne's Eastland Port is predicted to double to five million cubic metres annually by 2024.

Studies have found the Gisborne region is where forestry accounts for the greatest share of regional GDP – more than 5 per cent. One in four households has a member whose job is dependent on forestry.

But locals know the damage wrought as a side effect of forestry, but they're reluctant to criticise an industry upon which so many across the district are reliant.

Dana Mitchell and husband Shaun spent many years as forestry contractors and were aware of the criticism.

"I think people need to know a lot of the wood that came down was old and had been cut down before the council clamped down on that sort of thing," she says.

"In the past few years the council has been really good at coming up and checking skids (log processing areas) before and after we've been there to make sure everything was done right."

Forestry Minister Shane Jones is less forgiving and says the damage should be a wake-up call for the industry.

"I think the seriousness of the issue is dawning on the industry, but I would say the industry have enjoyed, along with other primary industries, a laissez-faire environment," he said this week.

He says with more frequent weather events, the challenge for the industry is to change its economic model, which has become "hacking down as many trees in a clear-felling operation as possible" and "hoping and praying" land left behind doesn't slip away.

Gisborne Mayor Meng Foon says while the forestry sector will support what is expected to be a $10m clean up, ratepayers will have to help foot the bill.

District Council contractors and the Transport Agency are also expected to be involved and Task Force Green will support clearing farms.

Foon says the council began looking into the issue of slash in the wake of ex- tropical Cyclone Cook in April last year, and as of May 1, a new National Environment Standard (NES) means stricter planting and fresh water rules.


In later news reporting on RNZ Checkpoint FOA President Peter Weir added new information:

Companies committed to do their fair share - President of the Forest Owners Association Peter Weir expects a raft of changes within the industry, he says, following criticism about the way it handles debris.

Residents in the Gisborne region are calling for the industry to be held accountable after logging debris carried in floodwaters, caused million tonnes of logs and forest debris to be dumped on farms, in rivers and on beaches over the last week.

Flood-hit farmers around Tolaga Bay have demanded an immediate halt to all forestry in the area, until a government inquiry into the industry was carried out. Forest Owners Association president Peter Weir, who is also the environment manager for a Gisborne forestry company, said the debris was from trees harvested five years ago.

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Further information >>

And from this morning's news reports...

Finally, the last word for this week goes to Peter Clark from PF Olsen in their Wood Matters client update

Sources: Stuff News, RNZ & PFOlsen

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