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.