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The future land use in Tairāwhiti/Gisborne and Wairoa is up for debate after a Ministerial Inquiry and the Government's Response. Guy Trafford looks at the state of play

Rural News / opinion
The future land use in Tairāwhiti/Gisborne and Wairoa is up for debate after a Ministerial Inquiry and the Government's Response. Guy Trafford looks at the state of play
Gisborne slash at bridge

The Government response to the Ministerial Inquiry into Land Use in Tairāwhiti/Gisborne and Wairoa” was released last week.

As with most government reports careful reading is required as it is in the finer detail where the real action is. It also pays to have a fair amount of cynicism at the ready. The fact that several local stakeholders chose to ‘walk out’ of Minister Peeni Henare’s presentation also leads one to make sure as complete understanding as possible is gained. This also includes understanding some of the back-story behind the advent of pine forests on the East Coast. For Maori in particular this goes back as far as 1956 and is still ongoing.

Regarding the Report, the recommendations are to be rolled out in two main tranches - this is all assuming that whoever is in power post the October elections commits to continuing on with the programme.

Phase One, which has already begun with the $10.2 mln contribution to the clean-up, is largely focused risk reduction and cleaning up the mess:

  • effective, sufficient clean-up of woody debris to manage the risks it presents;
  • strengthening resource management functions and decision-making;
  • strengthening partnerships for future resilience; and
  • reducing risks of new woody debris flows and sedimentation.

Phase Two in part informed from Phase One is to “strengthening resilience to future severe weather events and supporting the transition to more sustainable, lower risk, land uses and practices at a district and national scale”. While the Inquiry made wide ranging recommendations to government, two in particular have been highlighted and probably at the core of the government’s response;

  • changes needed to land use management including, but not limited to,afforestation and harvesting practices; and
  • changes needed to regulatory settings including, but not limited to, plan rules and national direction under the Resource Management Act 1991 (RMA) (or its replacement).

Reason’s given for not enacting all of the Inquiry’s recommendations range from;

  • it has already been formally declined by Government (for example, the fast-track consent of Te Araroa Kahui Kupenga Marine Facility proposal was recently declined, although not yet dead in the water);
  • it would set an unsustainable precedent (for example, shift funding responsibility from local to central government for flood protection and control); and
  • it may give rise to wider, undesirable implications (for example, the recommendation to review the Overseas Investment Act 2005).

Not surprisingly, “fiscal risks to the Crown” underpin much of the government’s response and they have the expectation that costs will be shared.

An appointee (an RMA advisor) will be made to advise government and support the Gisborne District Council (GDC) while also taking action to ensure local RMA functions are responding to the need to better manage the risks from erosion, sedimentation and woody debris and move land use in the region to more sustainable practices. The RMA advisor’s role is far ranging and include:

  • GDC’s approach to compliance monitoring and enforcement functions, and resources needed, and whether this could be improved;
  • GDC’s approach to consenting and reviewing forestry activities with a focus on the risks of clear-felling and risk mitigations;

What powers the RMA advisor has to enforce their advice are not stated. It has to be assumed that it comes from pressure from government, assuming they agree with the conclusions. This person is expected to be in place in the next week or two. Presumably some-one has already been shoulder tapped. In addition to the RMA advisor there is also to be a “Ministerial Advisor” (the Facilitator) to “to facilitate non-statutory interventions that support the Government’s response in Tairāwhiti”. In addition; “they will actively facilitate the strengthening of relationships and collaboration within

and across regions and across industry sectors (including forestry, agriculture and horticulture) to support achievement of common goals and outcomes.” An ambitious outcome especially considering they will be:

  • be critical to identifying and progressing next steps on management of woody debris, as outlined above in paragraphs 33 to 35; and
  • play a key role in developing the Phase Two programme.

This person also is to be appointed in August and as with the RMA advisor supposedly there for a nine-month period. I can’t help but think Hekia Parata would be a person suited to this role, at least from the community’s perspective. However, GDC and forestry companies may disagree.

It is recognised that better managing harvesting practises is of critical importance and government recognises that currently companies have reduced logging to a rate of about half of the pre- Cyclone Gabrielle event. However, even the companies admit that this is largely due to a lack of access to sites and the fact that the global economy downturn means that there is a greatly reduced demand for logs. About 90% of Tairawhiti logs are exported. Even with the slowdown larges volumes are still moving across the port.

Logs exported across Eastland the Port – for years ended 30th of June 2023,

2021 - 3.1 million tonne
2022 - 2.5 million tonne
2023 - 2.3 million tonne

So perhaps not quite the halving of volumes the government quoted.

Industry Response

The forestry industry understandably has not firmly embraced the report although there has been considerably movement, at least in the planning stage of how they intend to manage future harvesting and along with improving their liaising with GDC and government are committed to;

  • evaluating slope stability when planning;
  •  managing the extent of harvesting clear-cuts, limiting size and staging harvest;
  • managing harvest residues on landslide prone slopes;
  • leaving mature trees to help trap slash in appropriate locations;
  • constructing slash traps; and
  • risk assessment at time of planting and replanting

While this doesn’t go as far as what the Inquiry recommended, it is dependant upon the industry interpretation and will go some way towards it. It will most likely satisfy government who will not be wanting to totally disassemble the industry. The Inquiry’s main recommendations re-harvesting were;

• There should be a limit to the total area within a catchment that can be clear-felled each year. We suggest that an appropriate area is no more than five per cent of a catchment per year.

• We suggest that an appropriate maximum staged coupe size is 40 hectares. A minimum ‘green-up’ period of five years between staged harvest coupes will minimise the risk of large-scale erosion events.

• There should be a requirement to remove woody debris from red-zoned land wherever practical or otherwise dispose of safely.

CEO of the Eastland Wood Council, Philip Hope has saidUltimately, where the risks of slope failure cannot be mitigated due to the highly erodible soils, there may be cases for the retirement of land from productive use and not building on high-risk flood plains”.

It is likely that a 40 ha maximum area (coupe) will still be considered far to large for many in the community and the lack of government immediate direction over this could have been a major reason for some of those at the meeting to walk out. The risk of generating more slash at this point appears to be high. The Forest Owners Association (FOA) submission in response to the Inquiry report is linked here. The focus largely defends why BAU is considered to be still the best approach (taking into account the above industry recommendations) and largely economic based. As would be expected from a business company.

GDC Response

Perhaps tellingly, Mayor Stoltz emphasised that the Council firmly supports several findings in the report, including strengthening land use rules to manage activities in areas with extreme erosion, conducting flood capacity assessments, and halting clear-fell harvesting. But this leaves the question as to what GDC do not agree with.

Perhaps the issues still facing Gisborne are captured in this recent photo of a community project to rid Midway Beach of ‘human rubbish’ of which 1.3 tonnes was collected which appeared to be interspersed among the logs (non-human rubbish?) which covered much of the beach.



The issues around forestry harvesting are not new and there are numerous reports which warn of the potential devasting effects slash etc can create downstream. The susceptibility of forest cutover to storm-initiated mass wasting (predominantly landslides) has similarly been well documented (Bishop and Stevens 1964; Ziemer 1981a, b, c; Furbish and Rice 1983; Guthrie 2002; Marden et al. 2006, 2007) with consequent on-and off-site impacts following a storm often exacerbated by the presence of logging slash (woody debris).

There is also a high probability that the frequency of severe weather events will increase in the future due to climate change. The combination of these factors means that it is highly likely that erosion will occur in forested areas in the future, this was highlighted in 2015. As far back as 1956 when the origins of the East Coast Forestry Project had its inception with the purchase of Maori owned land and some of Waiapoa Station and Tawhiti Station. This was try and mitigate some of the erosion that was occurring in the Whatatutu catchment and potentially threatening the highly productive Gisborne flats and associated settlements. Maori were persuaded to sell their land (for public good) with the understanding that much of it (as told by then Prime Minister Walter Nash when visiting Gisborne),that being that a 1:1 ratio, would be planted as protective planting versus productive. (Chapter 5.1 of the 548 page ‘story’ makes interesting reading).  There was even serious discussion as the whether conifers (pine) was the correct species to be planting.

As history has shown the original 6500ha of the Mangatu Forest has now grown to over 130,000ha and with the selling off of rights to forestry companies production harvesting is now to the fore. This is despite after Cyclone Bola in 1988, land in mature pine trees was over 90% free of visible erosion. Areas planted in trees younger than 6 years old were almost as susceptible to erosion as pasture. Research has found root actions halves in 15 months. Findings indicated that the strength, following harvest, of roots left in situ was non-existent after 40 months well before ‘replacement’ plantings can have an effect. A cynics view of past (hopefully not future) practices could be will summed up in the below cartoon.


The Mangatu Story considers that the harvesting of trees yields a period of time in which a renewal of erosion is likely because a second cycle of planting will not have the desired impact in the short term. For this reason, the protection-production continuum (could be called conundrum) in forestry requires careful management and the movement towards increased use of the East Coast forests for production is cause for concern. This only relates to erosion; the downstream effects are considerably amplified by slash.

The Future

Dr Anne Salmond in a piece in Newsroom said, regarding the option of forest companies upping sticks and leaving the East Coast “The beauty of this policy shift, from the forestry companies’ point of view, is that it will allow them to earn a handsome income for leaving their pine trees in the ground, without having to pay harvesting costs. Instead, they will be able to claim ETS carbon credits for a very long period. A brilliant escape route, given the probability that after the carnage caused by forestry slash during Cyclone Gabrielle, their licence to clear fell pine plantations on highly erodible land might be curtailed or removed altogether, making this kind of forestry unprofitable. This is not a credible form of long-term carbon sequestration, and inevitably, it will be called out as ‘greenwashing’ by the international community. Once again, New Zealand taxpayers will be left to foot the bill”.

CEO of the Eastland Wood Council said while largely agreeing with the report “there is also the risk some forestry blocks could be retired to become permanent carbon farms, to the detriment of the environment and rural communities”. Whether allowing forestry companies to ‘capture’ the available credits is a bad thing, I’m not sure. Also, one third (56,000 ha) of these forest were established before 1990 and so would not (presumably) be eligible for the ETS. So, perhaps not quite the golden egg as first thought.

My final thought on all this is responsibility needs to be shared. It’s a given forestry companies created much of the mess but it was under the supervision and regulatory climate created by both the Government and GDC. So some sharing of blame needs to take place. What does gall somewhat, and presumably has upset many in the community, is safeguards should have been in place already.

Below a link from a report done for GDC 2017

Reprint as at 1 May 2018

Resource Management (National Environmental Standards for Plantation Forestry) Regulations 2017

(LI 2017/174)

Patsy Reddy, Governor-General

Order in Council

At Wellington this 31st day of July 2017

Her Excellency the Governor-General in Council

19Permitted activity

Territorial authority

(1)Pruning and thinning to waste is a permitted activity.

Regional council

(2) Pruning and thinning to waste is a permitted activity if regulation 20(1) or (2) is complied with.

20Permitted activity conditions: slash

  1. Slash from pruning and thinning to waste must not be deposited into a water body, onto the land that would be covered by water during a 5% AEP event, or into coastal water. Annual exceedance probability

(a 5% AEP event has a 5% chance of occurring in any one year (or is a 1 in 20 year flood event);; a 0.5% AEP event has a 0.5% chance of occurring in any one year)

(2) If subclause (1) is not complied with, slash from pruning and thinning to waste must be removed from a water body, the land that would be covered by water during a 5% AEP event, and coastal water, unless to do so would be unsafe, to avoid—

(a) blocking or damming of a water body:

(b) eroding river banks:

(c) significant adverse effects on aquatic life:

(d) damaging downstream infrastructure, property, or receiving environments, including the coastal environment.

21Controlled activity: regional council

(1) Pruning and thinning to waste is a controlled activity if regulation 20 is not complied with.

(2) Control is reserved over—

(a) the effects on hydrological flow:

(b) methods used to minimise erosion and the deposit of slash:

(c) the effects on ecosystems, fresh water, and the coastal environment:

(d) the effects on downstream infrastructure and property:

(e) the information and monitoring requirements.


The final word goes to the Land Care authors: “We conclude that forestry will continue to make a significant contribution to New Zealand's economy, but several issues need to be addressed. The most pressing concerns are the incidence of post-harvest, storm-initiated landslides and debris flows arising from steep-land forests following timber harvesting. (This was 2017).

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Great piece, Guy.

Looks like a 1-in-20-year yardstick is invalid; as will 1:100, given the shifting goal-posts. So a different measure is needed; perhaps slope vs area vs tonnage vs time?

Dame Anne is one of the better thinkers in NZ - pity we tend to listen to ignorance so much instead.


Guy you write some damn good stuff.


Forestry is a hard game

Hard on gear and everything else

Gear has to be replaced

Now come the fuel shocks


The Green Party bears a lot of responsibility for this mess, legislating for carbon emissions from planting pine plantations.  This has resulted in overseas interests buying up many beef and cattle farms, and planting pine trees to be paid by the NZ taxpayer for the carbon credits.


Itsnot the carbon forests that caused this mess. It was the clearcut sites.

and there was worst erosion on steep farmland.


Who sold the farms to the overseas investors?

Own goal.


Who created the rules of the game and enabled them to proceed..

Stupid people .. that's who


You mean the rules around the livestock incentive program that made it viable to strip the steep hill country of its native cover and cause the latest disaster?

Or the rules that incentivize the replanting and create a diversified income stream for farmers - those willing sellers?


Or the myriad of rules around selective heli logging making making native forest management uneconomic resulting swapping heli rimu for clear felled jungle  merbau/kwila. Pro tip 40 ha radiata coups will be uneconomic also.

The moral hazard of government picking winners - be it SMP's or carbon boondoggles.


"There is also a high probability that the frequency of severe weather events will increase in the future due to climate change." This is just a projection Guy and has not been detected in the real world. To suggest there is high probability doesn't match what the AR6 WG1 Ch12 states. When the flagrant use of the discredited RCP8.5 scenario is taken out it is a damp squib. 

"Heavy precipitation and pluvial flood: Rainfall extremes have been detected to increase in Australasia, with low confidence (Table 11.10)." 

Table 12.5 specifically for NZ there is low confidence for Heavy precipitation and pluvial flood. "River Flood" is medium confidence. There is low confidence for landslide, and even low confidence for agricultural and ecological drought. So where do you get your "high probability" from?

Globally as summarised in table 12.12:

"The IPCC has concluded that a signal of climate change has not yet emerged beyond natural variability for the following phenomena:

  • River floods

  • Heavy precipitation and pluvial floods

  • Landslides

  • Drought (all types)

  • Severe wind storms

  • Tropical cyclones

  • Sand and dust storms

  • Heavy snowfall and ice storms

  • Hail

  • Snow avalanche

  • Coastal flooding

  • Marine heat waves

Furthermore, the emergence of a climate change signal is not expected under the extreme RCP8.5 scenario by 2100 for any of these phenomena, except heavy precipitation and pluvial floods and that with only medium confidence. Since we know that RCP8.5 is extreme and implausible, that means that there would even less confidence in emergence under a more plausible upper bound, like RCP4.5"…



Profile you have a nerve.

Time you had your epiphany and said sorry.



As I scrolled through the comments and read Profiles well reasoned and supported comment I thought to myself..

"I wonder if that 'Peak Oil Bloke' will pop up and say something stupid and condescending .."


And then he did..


Misquoting reports and cherry picking data while not telling the full story. Profile's comment is not advice I would have confidence relying on.


Profile appears to be misquoting and cherry picking the reports. Don't let the narrative get in the way of the evidence. 

If climate change were a barrage from an army tank, we're at the point where we've seen the tracer bullets land next to us, and the muzzle flashes from the shellfire with an expected trajectory, but the barrage of shells hasn't hit... yet.

If you look at the evidence, you get a different story...

The Table 12.2 you reference on page 1813 of the IPCC report is about what has emerged, and the confidence in the direction of change of the climate indicators. It shows:   

There is at least medium confidence that that changes have already emerged in these areas:

  • Increased mean air temperature, and high confidence of further increase
  • Increased extreme heat, and high confidence of further increase
  • Decreased cold spells, and high confidence of further decrease

Still gathering evidence, but the projected direction of travel for other measures are:

High confidence of increase of these over time:

  • Relative sea level
  • Coastal flood
  • Coastal erosion
  • Marine heatwave
  • Ocean acidity
  • Atmospheric CO 2 at surface

High confidence of decrease of these over time:

  • frost
  • glaciers - high confidence of decrease in glacier volume, medium confidence of decrease in snow.

Medium confidence of increase of these over time:

  • River flood
  • Fire weather

Low confidence in direction of change of:

  • Heavy precipitation and pluvial flood
  • Landslide
  • Hydrological drought
  • Agricultural and ecological drought
  • Mean wind speed
  • Severe wind storm
  • Heavy snowfall and ice storm
  • Hail
  • Snow avalanche
  • Air pollution weather
  • Radiation at surface

Medium confidence of increase in the north and east and decrease in south and west for aridity

Medium confidence of decrease in north and east and increase in south and west for mean precipitation

These were not broadly relevant:

  • Tropical cyclones
  • Sand and dust storms
  • Permafrost
  • Lake, river and sea ice


IMHO it would be wise to prepare our societies for resilience, while wholesale sinking long-lived forms of carbon in soil and oceanic carbon sinks.


Gee what a surprise it is warming in an inter-glacial. Pro tip it has been warming since the Little Ice Age. Pre 1300 we had much larger Kumara growing range so our forefathers could cope and I'm sure you can too.

You are misquoting what Table 12.12 states for the white cells in the Already Emerged in Historical Period. It states "white cells indicate where evidence is lacking or the signal is not present, leading to overall low confidence of an emerging signal." That certainly does not mean your statement:

"Still gathering evidence, but the projected direction of travel for other measures are:

High confidence of increase of these over time" 

Feel free to edit your post. You're welcome.


Again, misquoting. Maybe try reading to the bottom of my comment before trying to draw such erroneous conclusions.

If you did, you would have seen where I reference the white cells, and their implications.

And if you had considered the impact of the changes already happening, you might also consider it's impact on the ecology, and realise that the changes unfolding are happening orders of magnitude faster than any previous atmospheric CO2 variation, and then consider just how fragile our food and fibre supply chains are if the ecosystems they rely on collapse, because they can't live in their new climate conditions, and can't migrate in a matter of days or decades like you and I.

What happens then, Profile? Are you going to dedicate your life to re-home entire ecosystems? Or be proactive?


Well do the right thing and edit your post then mate. Don't fall in to the alarmist trope of making stuff up. You state "Low confidence in direction of change of" when in fact the table states "where evidence is lacking or the signal is not present, leading to overall low confidence of an emerging signal." Evidence lacking or the signal is not present, is definitely not low confidence in a direction of change.

Given that evidence lacking/no signal Guy cannot state there is "high probability" that heavy precipitation and pluvial flood and landslide etc. will increase as there is no evidence. You and Guy need to familiarise yourselves with the AR6 and stop spouting unsupported climate doom fantasy.

In fact Guy states "As with most government reports careful reading is required as it is in the finer detail where the real action is." He needs to do the same careful reading with the AR6 else the whole premise of his article (and the reports he is reading) is/are undermined.

On a basic level one doesn't need to read a report to see the design of the bridge in the article photo is flawed. If we want reilience we could start by designing our bridges to cope with riparian flood debris.



Climate change (all man made of course) alarmists in full swing when you come out with contrary information to the CC narrative.


The local council are fully empowered to bring the forestry companies under control through

the present RMA provisions.

The council is fully empowered to issue an abatement notice under section 322 of the Resource Management Act.   This gives the provision that an abatement order can be issued by enforcement officers if in their opinion the activity is likely to be noxious, dangerous, offensive, or objectionable to such an extent that it has or is likely to have an adverse effect on the environment.  If what we see happening does not meet these criteria, then I don't know what does, so the council has an imperative responsibility to act accordingly.

At that point it is up to the forest companies to offer  up management processes that satisfy the council that the risk will be managed.  If subsequently problems still occur the councils still retain the power to shut them down again.



Well I'm in Europe and can't send you photos of the floods in Slovenia. Forest debris everywhere on bridges, etc etc BUT not a harvest site to be seen. Huge unprecedented amounts of rainfall, sound familiar?

Heres a news flash- if you get enough rain intensity everything comes down the hill but standing older forest is last to go. What do you think beaches looked like pre ripping all the forests of the hills in NZ? Littered with woody debris supporting large natural ecosystems- not good for swimming, surfing or walking the dog.

We get upset about debris, and I'm not supporting production forests on steep skeletal soils- it's madness - but we seem very relaxed about the millions of tonnes of soil washed down off grasslands on steep ex forest land soils, with large exotic animals trampling around. 

Until we accept that over 1 million ha of grassland needs to be retired pronto, along with some production forest, it will repeat itself. We will be idiots and spend lots fixing fences etc etc to do the same again - they will go broke in the end but let's stop wasting money.

The big problem will be once in permanent forest debris will be on beaches more often and you can't walk the dog - what an outrage!!