New Zealand Logger - - Contents -

SEE­ING TONNES OF FORESTRY SLASH AND LOGS WASH DOWN RIVERS, over farm­land, and slam up against homes and bridges on TV was very sober­ing.

Even sea­soned forestry folk have been shak­ing their heads and ad­mit­ting that it’s not a good look.

What we’re wit­ness­ing is forestry’s soft un­der-belly ex­posed.

These 1-in-20-year ma­jor storm events are be­com­ing 1-all-too-of­ten and they don’t take pris­on­ers. Un­sta­ble land hit with huge amounts of rain in a mat­ter of hours just can­not take that kind of soak­ing with­out some con­se­quences.

Last month’s del­uge on the East Coast had se­ri­ous con­se­quences for the poor oc­cu­pants of houses sit­ting down­stream of the slash-rid­den tor­rents we saw gush­ing to­wards To­laga Bay. Ex­actly the same thing hap­pened in Golden Bay at the top of the South Island and on the West Coast re­cently.

It doesn’t mat­ter that some of the de­bris was from na­tive blocks and old ar­eas logged a while ago. It’s still come from a for­est and be­comes an is­sue for forestry to­day. The big ques­tion is what do we do now?

Forestry crews got out to help clear the log jams and mess, which was great. But lo­cals are still up in arms and Forestry Min­is­ter, Shane Jones, is point­ing the fin­ger in our di­rec­tion and say­ing things need to change. In­deed, they do.

In the days fol­low­ing the storm, as the clean-up be­gan, one me­dia head­line screamed: ‘Is this the end for forestry on the East Coast?’

An over-re­ac­tion, per­haps, but even PF Olsen’s Peter Clark ad­mit­ted in an in­ter­view that scenes like this might lead to some ar­eas be­ing re­tired from plan­ta­tion forestry al­to­gether. And prob­a­bly not just forestry, but any type of pro­duc­tive land use, with re­ver­sion to per­ma­nent na­tive forests the only al­ter­na­tive.

But even do­ing that is not go­ing to guar­an­tee that we won’t see floods sweep this sort of de­bris down to the coast in the fu­ture.

That’s be­cause the land re­mains very un­sta­ble and even na­tive for­est cover is li­able to be swept away in mas­sive storms. It’s hap­pened in the past, long be­fore pine plan­ta­tions and farm land were es­tab­lished. And as rain events be­come more vi­o­lent and more fre­quent in the fu­ture through cli­mate change, we may wit­ness these scenes more of­ten.

It’s go­ing to take re­search to iden­tify slip- and flood-prone ar­eas and much dis­cus­sion among wide-rang­ing par­ties to come up with so­lu­tions.

We are un­likely to see the dire pre­dic­tion of the me­dia head­line come true. Forestry is too im­por­tant to the re­gional economies for places like the East Coast to be stripped of plan­ta­tion pines com­pletely. A com­pro­mise has to be found. It may in­clude mov­ing vul­ner­a­ble homes away from flood-prone sites and bridges built higher to let de­bris flow un­der, as well as re­tir­ing plan­ta­tion blocks on highly un­sta­ble land.

What­ever the so­lu­tions, forestry has to be ac­tively in­volved. There’s too much at stake.

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