TOUGHER rules are needed to stop logging operations from causing the devastation seen in Tolaga Bay last weekend, a leading environmentalist says.
Millions of tonnes of logging debris caused widespread damage across the East Coast following the weekend storms.
The National Environmental Standards for Plantation Forestry came into force just a month ago and were developed under the previous government.
Environmental and Conservation Organisations co-chair Cath Wallace told Radio New Zealand her organisation was frustrated by the development of the new standards under the old government.
She said the consultation process shut out environmental groups like hers, and as a result the new rules were still too lax.
Ms Wallace believed more substantial planting along the edges of waterways were required to catch a lot of the forestry slash.
“One of the difficulties is that the sort of imperatives or production from the companies often overrides their willingness to put those margins in place and protect the waterways – and of course it is not just the waterways as we’ve seen in Tolaga Bay – it is people’s whole lives and houses getting wrecked,” she said.
Former Gisborne district conservator Trevor Freeman said the event at Tolaga Bay was the worst he had seen in terms of woody debris.
He was involved for eight years developing the new measures and said originally the standards sought permitted activity status, which meant no resource consent was required for some parts of the landscape.
He said while the final rules were improved, there were still “some susceptible land types” that did not require resource consents for either the planting of trees or harvesting.
Mr Freeman said the new regulations did not allow councils to put in more stringent rules and he did not think they were tight enough.
Forestry Minister Shane Jones said the new rules were unlikely to be changed until they had the opportunity to take hold.
“The people that are wanting forestry restricted – I think they’ve got to allow such restrictions to be guided by facts – the facts of the matter are it could be that better management practices would have avoided what we are seeing through the media.
“Or it could be that some of the areas cannot and should not have exotic trees on them – they’ve got to have permanent cover,” he said.
Forest owner Whitikau Holdings Limited and harvesting company Paturakau Limited received hefty fines in April this year for their environmental offending on a 197 hectare forest block in steep mountainous terrain south-east of Opotiki,
The charges related to disturbance of stream beds and discharging sediment, trees and forestry debris into streams. Whitikau Holdings pleaded guilty to five charges of contravening the Resource Management Act 1991 and was fined $57,000.
Paturakau Limited and Neville Walker, also pleaded guilty, and were fined $4000 and $3000 respectively.