New national environmental standards will increase costs for farm foresters
Farm forestry owners are facing added costs with the introduction of new national environmental standards (NES) for any tree plantation of more than a hectare planted for commercial purposes and harvest.
The regulations cover eight forestry activities including re-afforestation, earthworks, harvesting, quarrying and the installing of stream crossings.
Forest Owners environment committee chairman, Peter Weir, said the new standards would require a step up in the quality of harvesting, erosion and sediment control and forest road construction for some operators.
"The one-hectare stipulation would include most farm woodlots," Weir said." The standards explicitly exclude shelter belt."
Some of the conditions in the NES include providing "set backs" for tree plantings from rivers, lakes, coastal areas and significant natural areas; providing a harvest plan to a local council if requested; and for earth works, the installation of storm water and sediment control measures.
Where there is a high risk of erosion in areas mapped as orange or red, stricter requirements would apply, and some forest activities would not be permitted without a resource consent.
After 1 May 2018 (start of the next planting season, and the date NES comes into effect) farmers will need to apply for a resource consent to plant highly erodible land (red zoned). Councils will have the ability to refuse that consent if they judge the risk of erosion after harvest to be too great.
Minister for Environment Nick Smith said forestry is New Zealand's third largest primary industry but its efficiency is hampered by the confusing mix of planning rules across New Zealand's 86 councils.
"The strength of this national approach is that it will better protect the environment while also improving the productivity of the forestry sector by applying consistent environmental standards to reduce operational costs," Smith said.
"Looking forward, the NES means large areas of erosion prone farmland will effectively become off-limits for plantation forestry. The NES specifies these areas can now only be planted with a council resource consent and it'll be subject to a detailed risk assessment," Weir said.
"For small forest growers, the roading and culverting costs just went up a lot because you can't get away with under-sized culverts. Large producers with good practices will probably see very little change."
He said it had taken eight years to get the NES through to resolve the lack of consistency and complexity of different regional and district council rules for forestry.
"We've had forest blocks straddling local body boundaries and have had to comply with various sets of sometimes contradictory rules in building roads and harvesting the trees. It's made no sense on the ground."
"And it's been expensive and frustrating for our industry, and for environmental advocates for that matter, to frequently have to work through the same issues time and again in plan changes with multiple regional councils."
Weir said the NES would likely direct tree planting investment into more stable landscapes, with a much-reduced risk of slopes slipping in storms after harvest and less debris flowing downstream.
He predicts the NES would also increase forest roading and harvesting standards.
"We know there is currently too broad [a] range in the quality of forest engineering. Harvesting is the most expensive stage of forestry, and for some owners and contractors in the past, the temptation to cut corners was too high. If there is heavy rain, then we read about the result in the newspapers."
"NES has made it much clearer what the expected standard is, although, for some forests, especially small blocks, costs will increase."
"The industry has long needed a single focus. One national rule set that replaces all the rules in all the regional and district plans," Weir said.