Managing sustainable land use better

Wednesday 12 June, 2024

Moving towards more sustainable forestry and farming practices on our steep and erosion-prone land is at the forefront of environmental concerns in the Tairāwhiti region.

Recent severe weather events have highlighted the urgent need to align land use practices on this land to protect our rivers and coastal environments.

Gisborne District Council Chief Executive Nedine Thatcher Swann says one of Council’s goals is to identify the worst eroding land across the region and transition it to permanent vegetation cover.

“However, we have a lot of work to do before we get to that point.

“Our community is well aware that during heavy rain events, our land and rivers face significant risks.

“For the last 10 years, forestry harvesting on steep and erosion-prone land followed by severe weather events has generated excessive sediment and woody debris in our waterways.

“This has significantly harmed our rivers, coastal ecosystems, the region’s infrastructure, people’s properties and our way of life.

“Post Cyclone Bola in 1988, central government subsidies encouraged pine planting on eroding terrain for erosion control, but harvesting in recent years has exposed the underlying geology to significant erosion risk.

“The aftermath of cyclones Hale and Gabrielle in 2023 have revealed the limitations of the National Environmental Standard for Commercial Forestry (NES-CF) in addressing these risks for Tairāwhiti.”

Ms Thatcher Swann says even the strictest application of the rules within the NES-CF is not appropriate for the types of soils we have in Tairāwhiti.

Court prosecutions and large fines had also not deterred bad practices of land use in this district.

“The cleanup costs have also disproportionately burdened our ratepayers.”

Most of the costs of forestry in terms of environmental damage are externalities  - costs that are not borne by the company that carries out the activity giving rise to the damage, but instead are borne by downstream property owners and the wider community.

“The most obvious external cost arising from commercial forestry harvesting borne by the community is removing forestry harvesting debris from local beaches and rivers.”

Council has spent $1.2 million of ratepayer funds since July 2018 removing woody debris from Ūawa/Tolaga Bay beach and the beaches in Gisborne city.

Since Cyclone Gabrielle there has been more than $16 million spent of central government money removing the large woody debris from rivers and other coastal areas in Tairāwhiti.

“The only way Council can manage land use sustainably is through the review of the Tairāwhiti Resource Management Plan (TRMP).”

Ms Thatcher Swann says because of the complexity of the issue, a multifaceted approach to improving our waterways has been proposed.

“Work started on plan change options from early 2023.

“We needed to create a connection with our waterways and forestry practices to ensure we can better manage our land and rivers.

“High-resolution modeling from Manaaki Whenua/Landcare Research has provided that connection.

“Technology advances have meant this spatial data is at a level of detail we’ve never had before.

“Council staff will verify the model before developing a detailed map layer from it called the Land Overlay 3B (LO3B).

“This layer will identify the worst eroding land that needs to transition to permanent vegetative cover.

“By transitioning these areas to permanent vegetation, we aspire to reduce the risk of land failure and debris flow events, protect our waterways and the impacts these effects have downstream on so many of our residents.

“Council’s approach is to establish long-term vegetation on slopes where clear-fell harvesting is simply not sustainable while supporting plantation forestry on land where clear-fell harvesting regimes can be sustained.

“These proposed changes are intended to reduce soil erosion and improve water quality, which in turn will enhance terrestrial, aquatic and marine biodiversity.

“We’re looking to first apply our thinking about forestry, farming and land use in the Ūawa catchment.

“This involves collaboration between industry players, mana whenua, community members, business owners and special interest groups such as Mana Taiao Tairāwhiti.”

Council is still in the early stages of consultation and feedback from the forestry sector, other stakeholders and the wider community and this will be considered before making decisions on the rule changes.

“Although these changes may take a generation, we’re committed to creating a safe, sustainable Tairāwhiti for our children to thrive."