Calls to halt pine forestry on unsuitable East Coast land after slash destroys infrastructure

Federated Farmers is calling for a halt on pine forest operations until harvesting practices are improved after slash is believed to have destroyed billions of dollars of infrastructure.

An inquiry has been launched, but the damage has already been done.

From the air you can see pine trees that have been snapped and flattened by Cyclone Gabrielle. There's slash piled up on river banks and bridges wiped out by trees.

Up the Mangatokerau Valley there's a carpet of debris lining the river bed and it's so deep you can't see the ground. Linda Gough's land is littered with logs and waist-deep mud, her land is ruined.

"You just go into a bit of shock, it hasn't really hit me yet," she told Newshub.

After 26 years of living here, she's used to flooding - but said the mess left behind is forestry's fault.

"I would just like it to stop. I just want them to make sure their slash isn't left where it can go into river beds."

Calls to halt pine forestry on unsuitable East Coast land after slash destroys infrastructure
Photo credit: Newshub

Federated Farmers agrees. They want forestry operations halted on land that's caused problems until changes are made.

"We need to stop it. Forestry is important yes, but our community access and well-being of our people - forestry workers, farmers and the public - should take priority," said Toby Williams, president of Gisborne Wairoa Federated Farmers.

"Well that would depend where. I think the companies themselves, I know are gonna be looking at halting harvesting in some areas because quite frankly at the moment it's going to be weeks and months before some of the crews can even get back in there," said NZ Forest Owners Association CEO David Rhodes.

The Forest Owners Association is welcoming an inquiry, which has been launched for the Tairāwhiti Region.

"They've gotta take a good hard look at their practices. We will be working with them but we will put a regulatory regime in place to ensure that harvesting practices meet the social licence and the social contract," Forestry Minister Stuart Nash said.

Federated Farmers said while some companies have good harvesting practices, many are leaving too much slash behind because it's too expensive to clean up.

"We've got mostly foreign-based landowners, and they want their money out when prices are good."

However, Rhodes said forestry has been busy making changes.

"So the companies have gone in and they've got risk management plans, they're looking at different species and they're looking at how they harvest."

Calls to halt pine forestry on unsuitable East Coast land after slash destroys infrastructure
Photo credit: Newshub

But experts say this East Coast land should never have been planted in pine.

"That forestry practice which is sustainable in the volcanic soils of the North Island has been transferred to the steepest and most erodible lands in the world and that clear-fell harvesting, that slash, is just failing with the soil underneath it," said climate scientist Nathanael Melia.

Flying over the hills on the East Cape you can see where native trees have survived the storm and pines haven't.

"So native forests are the right and natural land use for this area," Melia said.

And there are fears the slash left on river banks will cause problems in years to come.

"When the next Cyclone Hale or Gabrielle hits, it'll pick it all up, cart it down and smash into the new bridges we've just built. Is there any point building new bridges?" Williams asked.

A problem that he hopes the government inquiry will address.