Damning forestry slash report: Gisborne District Council 'extremely disappointed' by findings, recommendations

"We have 5 to 10 years to turn this environmental disaster around."

That's the warning from the damning forestry slash report as it sets out its raft of findings and recommendations to the Government. 

But one council has said it's "extremely disappointed" by the findings and "fundamentally disagrees" with several recommendations in the report.

Forestry debris caused widespread damage along the East coast, ripping through homes, and covering beaches and farmland during Cyclone Gabrielle.

Damning forestry slash report: Gisborne District Council 'extremely disappointed' by  findings, recommendations
Photo credit: Newshub

In March, Puketapu resident Stephanie Wilson spoke with Newshub after access to her home was suffocated by massive amounts of forestry slash.

Wilson said she witnessed livestock being "sucked in under" the slash when the cyclone unleashed itself.

"Just watching the animals feeling pretty helpless."

Her family's apple orchard lost a total of 90 hectares of apples.

Now a new report, Outrage to Optimism, has put the scale of forestry destruction into context. The report, released on Friday, found the impact of the forestry slash was different in each district due to differences in soil, topography, land-use history, cumulative storm battery and fragile infrastructure.

"Paptuanuku is battered and bleeding, Ranginui a fury and Tane Mahuta bent and breaking," the report's introdcution said.

"We are not a third-world country. We heard from experts that the situation is perilous - the time to act is now. 

"In their estimation, we have 5 to 10 years to turn this environmental disaster around. To urgently reset the future of Ngāti Porou and the whole of Tairāwhiti."

The 44-page report includes 90 findings and 49 recommendations. 

Some findings and recommendations 

Damning forestry slash report: Gisborne District Council 'extremely disappointed' by  findings, recommendations
Photo credit: Newshub

Woody debris, sediment and waterways 

Woody debris and sediment caused "destructive debris flows" which yielded widespread damage to properties, infrastructure and ecosystems, the report found.

"These symptoms of failure, weaponised by cyclonic winds and weather bombs, have created an emergency and require urgent clean-up action."

The panel heard of river blockages and debris being a flood risk but had not been addressed in some communities.

"These ultimately contributed to rivers overwhelming flood controls or riverbanks, increasing flood damage."

Clean-up that remains, in many cases, is "beyond the capability of the local community", the report said.

Among the many recommendations, the report advises a Woody Debris Taskforce be established to coordinate the clean-up, de-risk catchment debris accumulation and plan for and respond to future events in Wairoa and Tairāwhiti.

The report said forest owners now have an obligation to establish a sustainable funding system to support current and future clean-up and to "help restore their social license within he community".

It also recommends funding is provided to assist the Gisborne District Council and Hawke's Bay Regional Council to undertake a flood-capacity assessment to identify and fix critical risks to river flood flow capacity.


The report stated Tairāwhiti and Wairoa are heavily dependent on two state highway corridors, SH35 and SH2 "which act as the main arteries for the region".

It found both regions have "inadequate water infrastructure and vulnerable energy and communication networks".

Decades of underfunding from "narrow investment criteria and reactive storm recovery" has seen a range of "band-aids" applied to failing infrastructure, the report said. 

"The lack of resilient infrastructure impacts communities and their connectivity, as well as stymying the possibilities for higher-value land use and increased productivity."

Government should develop the next GPS and National Land Transport Programme to enable provision for adequate maintenance and renewals of SH35 and SH2, the report recommended.

This will allow "greater flexibility"  to move money between activity classes when the regions are faced with emergency and recovery situations. 

Land use 

The panel said the current land use is "unsustainable".

Unintended consequences of successive Government strategies and inadequate local authority intervention came from a "failure to recognise the complexity of the regions' well-known geomorphology and people", the report said.

"The loss of soil is perilously close to being irretrievable. Catchment-based planning should be restored, incorporating mosaics of activities that reflect the specific characteristics of the catchment."

Gisborne District Council should include a land-use policy in its regional planning instruments to help a "mosaic" of sustainable land uses that "reflect the characteristics of individual catchments", the report recommended.


The report found the forestry industry has lost its social license in Tairāwhiti because of a culture "of poor practices", which the report said is facilitated by the Gisborne District Council's capitulation to the permissiveness of the regulatory regime and its under-resourced monitoring and compliance. 

"Together, these factors have caused environmental damage, particularly to land and waterways, and they have put the health and safety of people and their environment at risk."

The report recommends the Government "immediately" restrict large-scale clear-felling of plantation forests in Tairāwhiti and Wairoa.

It's asked the Government to write to the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) seeking an explanation for why some forestry companies have retained their FSC certification after being convicted of environmental offences. 

Gisborne District Council responds 

Rehette Stoltz, Gisborne's Mayor, said her council is "extremely disappointed" in the finding and "fundamentally disagrees" with several recommendations in the report.

"We also have serious concerns with the unsubstantiated commentary in the report as well as commentary which is outside the scope of the inquiry’s terms of reference," she said in a statement.

"We went into this inquiry in good faith with a view to working to ensure that in implementing the recommendations, we had the best interests of our community at heart.  This is incredibly disappointing."

Stoltz said she will be talking with Government ministers about the report and wouldn't provide further comment until the discussions have happened. 

Government responds: 

Minister for the Environment David Parker said the impact of the slash on the East Coast communities has been "devastating".

Parker said more than 10,000 people petitioned for land use to be better managed and believes "this report responds to that call".

"We thank the panel for its excellent work in preparing this major report in such a short timeframe. Our special thanks go to the Tairāwhiti and Wairoa communities, who were so generous in sharing their concerns and aspirations. 

"Ministers will now promptly and carefully consider the report and make decisions on its recommendations, to be announced as soon as possible."

Read the full recommendations and findings in the report here