New National Environmental Standard will challenge some foresters
FOREST OWNERS SAY THE INTRODUCTION of a National Environmental Standard for Plantation Forestry is vitally needed for deliver better environmental outcomes, but it could challenge some to meet the new rules and will also preclude plantations from erosionprone areas.
The government has released the NES, to bring in a standard set of environment regulations for plantation forests across the country, which is set to come into force on May 1, 2018.
Announcing the new standard last month, Minister for the Environment Dr Nick Smith and Associate Minister for Primary Industries Louise Upston say the efficiency of the industry has been hampered by the confusing mix of planning rules across New Zealand’s 86 councils.
“The strength of this national approach is that it will better protect the environment while also improving the productivity of the forestry sector by applying consistent environmental standards to reduce operational costs,” says Dr Smith.
The regulations cover eight forestry activities; including re-afforestation, earthworks, harvesting, quarrying and installing stream crossings.
Forest Owners Environment Committee chairperson, Peter Weir, says for some operators the NES will require a step up in the quality of their harvesting, erosion and sediment control and forest road construction.
Peter Weir says it has taken eight years to get the NES through to implementation to resolve the lack of consistency, and too much complexity, between different regional and district council rules for forestry.
He adds: “We’ve had forest blocks straddling local body boundaries and have had to comply with different sets of sometimes contradictory rules in building roads and harvesting the trees. It’s made no sense on the ground.
“And it’s been expensive and frustrating for our industry, and for environmental advocates for that matter, to frequently have to work through the same issues time and again in plan changes with multiple regional councils.
“Looking forward, the NES means large areas of erosion prone farmland will effectively become off-limits for plantation forestry. The NES specifies these areas can now only be planted with a Council resource consent and it’ll be subject to a detailed risk assessment.”
Mr Weir believes the NES will direct investment into planting in more stable landscapes, meaning a much-reduced risk of slopes failing in storms after harvest and thus fewer debris flows downstream.
He predicts the NES will also increase forest roading and harvesting standards, adding: “We know there is currently too wide a range in the quality of forest engineering.
“Harvesting is the most expensive stage of forestry and for some owners and contractors in the past the temptation to cut corners was too great. If there is heavy rain then we read about the result in the newspapers.
“NES has made it much clearer what the expected standard is, although for some forests, especially small blocks, costs will increase.”
Also, councils may apply stricter rules in special circumstances where local conditions require a more restrictive approach
“The next step I would like to see is that some aspects of the standards are extended across all land users, from agriculture to government departments, including stream crossings in the DoC estate,” says Mr Weir.
He goes on to say that a key value of the NES for the forest industry is that it is the result of collaboration with New Zealand’s environmental NGOs.
“Government departments; MPI and MfE, had Fish & Game and Forest & Bird around the table through much of the process. We appreciate their input and are aware of what things are important to them.
“The NGO involvement was very beneficial for our industry members when we were developing good practice guidance for protecting endangered species such as Long Tailed Bats, Kiwi, Kea and Karaearea in plantation forests.”
The new National Environmental Standard will provide consistent rules for plantation forests across the country.