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National Environmental Standards for Plantation Forestry

Published: 22nd March 2019

Author: Neil Dent, Gifford Devine

Published in: Rural e.speaking

Review due in May
The National Environmental Standards for Plantation Forestry (NES-PF) were first proposed in 2010. Following a period of consultation, the Standards came into effect on 1 May 2018, with a review due in 12 months after that (May 2019) to ascertain whether or not they are being successfully implemented.

Ironically, the NES-PF came into effect a month before torrential rain north of Gisborne in the Tolaga Bay area in June 2018. This storm caused flooding which led to tonnes of forestry debris being strewn across farms and blocking rivers. The cleanup was expected to cost around $10 million and to take up to a year to complete. The cost and responsibility for this cleanup is still being determined.

Why have NES-PF?
The objectives of the NES-PF are to:
• Maintain or improve the environmental outcomes associated with plantation forestry activities nationally, and
• Increase certainty and efficiency in the management of plantation forestry activities.
• The NES-PF regulates eight core plantation forestry activities:
• Afforestation
• Pruning and thinning to waste
• Earthworks
• River crossings
• Forestry quarrying
• Harvesting
• Mechanical land preparation, and
• Replanting.

According to a 1 May 2018 news release from the Minister of Forestry, the Hon Shane Jones, when the NES-PF came into effect:

The new environmental standards for plantation forestry came into effect today and provide a nationally consistent set of regulations to manage the environmental effects of plantation forestry activities undertaken in New Zealand’s 1.7 million hectares of plantation forestry.

Forestry is our third largest primary industry but its efficiency has been hindered by variation in planning rules across New Zealand’s multitude of Councils. Many large forests cover multiple Council boundaries, resulting in different rules for the same forest.

From today that forest will be governed by one set of rules …
The NES-PF aims to achieve the policy objectives in the Minister’s statement through:
• Providing nationally consistent provisions for the management of plantation forestry activities under the RMA
• Establishing rules that permit plantation forestry activities where it is efficient and appropriate to do so, and where the activities will not have significant adverse effects on the environment
• Requiring resource consent for activities where environmental risk is higher and more site-specific oversight is needed, or where permitted activity conditions cannot be complied with, and
• Allowing plan rules to be more stringent than the NES-PF to protect locally significant and sensitive environments, and to give effect to certain national instruments.

Some wiggle room for local authorities
Although the intention is to have one set of rules governing forestry over the entire country, local authorities still have the ability to make their own rules – in certain circumstances.

For example, in areas determined to be in the ‘red zone’, which are areas with a very high risk of slippage and erosion, the local authority would have the power – through the resource consent process – to put conditions on what is planted, where, how and when. One half of New Zealand’s ‘red zone’ forestry blocks are in the Gisborne area.

While the damage caused by the Tolaga Bay flooding is devastating for all involved, it will be a very useful case study for the NES-PF review due this year. It graphically illustrates just how much damage can be caused by forestry activities and, in particular, the forestry debris left behind after harvesting operations. Harvesting is one of the specific situations covered by the NES-PF as noted in MPI’s NES-PF user guide, paragraph 5.6.2:

Harvesting has the potential for adverse environmental effects if not properly managed, particularly in difficult terrain and when it takes place near sensitive receiving environments. Potential adverse effects from harvesting include:
• Slash from harvesting reaching water leading to changes in water chemistry or the damming and diverting of water, possibly damaging downstream forestry infrastructure (e.g. bridges and culverts).
• Soil disturbance from harvesting including by harvesting machinery leading to sedimentation in waterbodies and adversely affecting water quality and instream habitats.
• Soil erosion post-harvest, as the harvested tree roots rot and the slope loses stability.

Compliance costs
It seems that with any new regulatory framework comes increased compliance and, in particular, increased compliance costs. One of the complaints about the new regime is that as even small forestry blocks are covered by the NES-PF, the cost of compliance may impact upon the economics of such blocks. Local authorities that are now responsible for monitoring the permitted activities will need to hire staff to carry out monitoring and, of course, they will charge for it. If those monitoring charges are invoiced at a flat rate, it may be that the owner of a forestry block of a few hectares may be paying the same compliance fees as the owner of forests with several hundred hectares.

Few could argue, however, in the light of the Tolaga Bay devastation that more needs to be done in this area to avoid a repetition of the damage caused. Obviously those involved in the plantation forestry industry will have a keen interest in the upcoming review.

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