Forestry Minister Peeni Henare reacts to damning report into devastation caused by forestry slash

Forestry Minister Peeni Henare says Tai Rāwhiti locals are thankful for forestry as it put bread and butter on the table but are looking towards new opportunities in the future.

It comes after a damning report into the devastation caused by forestry slash during Cyclone Gabrielle that recommended changes were made to improve the sector.

The Forest Owners Association has hit out at the report saying it was put together too hastily, but Henare said he was not shocked by the inquiry's findings.

Forest Owners Association president Grant Dodson said the ministerial inquiry into land use in Tai Rāwhiti offered some good practical ideas but missed the mark on "more difficult" matters.

Dodson told Morning Report there was "no doubt" the social licence of forestry in Tai Rāwhiti had been damaged, but practices had improved "dramatically" since 2018.

However, they had not been enough to stop the impacts of Cyclone Gabrielle.

lash was a problem 100 years in the making and something that required a "significant amount of work", he said.

"That disaster started 100 years ago when the native trees were cleared off that land and ever since then, we've been chasing our tail with farming eroding into the sea, forestry washing down, water supplies damaged, roads damaged, bridges damaged, sedimentation ... it's been going on for a long time and you're quite right, time is running out. Climate change is making it worse."

Although Dodson said he thought the commission had done a great job putting together what it had in the last three months, "it is going to take a lot longer than that to actually implement things and solve the problem".

Some of the recommendations made following the inquiry would make a difference to the resilience of the region if implemented collectively, but Dodson said there would be implications.

For example, one of the report's findings suggested a more strategic way of getting rid of felling by taking out patches of forestry at a time.

Dodson's opinion on that was "mixed" as it had the potential to significantly drop the sustainable cut from the region.

He told Morning Report the proposed rule meant just 5 percent of a catchment could be cut per year, saying it would then take 20 years to harvest it.

It was a decision people on the East Coast needed to make, as it could come with loss of productivity and jobs.

Minister Henare said urgent meetings were taking place today to consider recommendations following the release of the report.

Seeing the devastation that slash had created during the cyclone, he told Morning Report he was not shocked by the findings.

The urgency needed to make sure land use was protected into the future was "quite clear" in the report, he said.

"Large, mass planting of trees as well and large, mass harvesting at the same time just isn't sustainable and in order to stabilise the land there, you do need a mixture of uses of that land.

"You also need to better plan the way that the forestry is planted up there as well as the species that are planted. That's quite clear in the report, with respect to how the government will move forward on that, those meetings will happen today."

Henare said he had been in the region recently and had conversations with former National cabinet minister Hekia Parata, who lead the inquiry, that showed locals were excited for future opportunities.

"While they were looking forward to a new future, they were actually quite thankful for forestry because it was forestry that put bread and butter on their table.

"That is a balance that we are going to have to come up with, but the locals have made it quite clear that they are looking towards other opportunities and we've got to look at what those opportunities might be."

Henare said he recently announced $60 million to do more wood processing locally and there was the possibility of expanding the blueberry industry in the region.

Tai Rāwhiti mayor Rehette Stoltz was looking forward to working with iwi on clearing the forestry slash, saying it was a priority.

The government wanted the work to begin straight away and had allocated $10m in this year's Budget to get rid of an estimated 70,000 tonnes of debris.

"It is really important to make sure our infrastructure, as well as our community, is ready for when another event arrives and that is part of the work we are doing, is building in that resilience to protect our infrastructure," Stoltz said.

The money will also go towards traps to prevent slash spilling into waterways in the first place.