Cyclone Gabrielle: Forestry company atoning for past slash damage by funding cleanups

Four years after being forced to pay compensation for slash damage, one of New Zealand's biggest forestry companies is trying to atone for it happening again by funding cleanups.

But the industry is now facing calls to increase the fines on companies responsible for forestry debris.

Three weeks on from Cyclone Gabrielle, the scars remain in ravaged Tolaga Bay. Bob Jackman's lifestyle farm is still covered in silt and slash, but he's grateful to forestry companies for taking some responsibility and offering to clean up the mess.

"There's no one forestry company that's responsible for all this - there's three or four up there. The companies are promising to repair the fence and remove the slash … We live in hope that they stick to their word," Jackman said.

The forestry industry is also stepping in to clean up the debris that's impacted this farm - 900 hectares has been affected by Cyclone Gabrielle.

Markers have been placed to point out debris dump zones that will be cleared away by forestry workers.

"We've had a few forestry companies, Ernslaw's one of them. They've been in cleaning out around yards and we've had a digger through helping to open up our access and we've had a lot of guys on fences helping clean slash off," said Brenden Ewart, station manager at Paroa Station.

Ernslaw was one of five forestry companies charged by the Gisborne District Council in 2018 over forestry slash damage, and now that it's happened again, they acknowledge things need to change - but that there's no simple solution.

Managing director Bill Wheeler said the woody debris is diverse. Some of it is clearly forestry-related, but there are also trees that were uprooted in the floods.

"Those logs over there, you can see they're decaying, they're old, they're rounded. Yes, they are from harvesting, we acknowledge that, but so much of this is from other sources of hillsides primarily giving away," Wheeler said.

The big question though is why forestry leftovers aren't being ground up to avoid this mess.

"Well, that's a good question," Wheeler said. "That'll be something I hope gets looked at in the review."

Chipping machines are one option.

"We'll be seriously looking at what more mobile solution we could have," Wheeler said.

The sheer scale of forestry debris has led to calls to increase the fines on forestry companies. The current maximum is $600,000.

"We do think the penalty regime should be looked at and look at increasing those penalties," the National Party's forestry spokesperson Joseph Mooney told Newshub's The Nation.

"I think as part of the review and the whole discussion around the sort of thing we're seeing here, it should certainly be looked at," Wheeler added.

Because while the forestry industry is trying to do the right thing by funding these cleanups, many locals said this should never have happened in the first place.

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