This page provides the key issues and concerns on the proposed National Environmental Standard for Plantation Forestry raised at the public consultation workshops held in 2010.
About the workshops
The Ministry for the Environment held public consultation workshops on the proposed National Environmental Standard for Plantation Forestry (NES) in September 2010. The workshops were held in Palmerston North, Gisborne, Balcutha, Nelson, Whangarei and Nelson.
Summary of the key issues and concerns that were raised at the workshops
Much of the proposal was focussed on solving consistency issues that were raised by the large scale forestry companies. There was concern from some smaller farm forestry operators that the current proposal may not be appropriate for them and it needed to be modified to also suit farm forestry.
Activity based vs. effects based NES
Some workshop attendees (attendees) commented about the appropriateness of the proposal addressing a land use activity rather than focussing on environmental effects. Comments included whether it would be more appropriate to address the plantation forestry activity that had the most adverse effects (earthworks) and form a proposal for all rural earthworks.
Front-loading the NES
The proposed NES suggested ‘front-loading’ so future replanting, earthworks and harvesting were considered at an early stage, when plantation forests are first established (at the afforestation stage).There were comments that this was very important as certainty about future harvesting was fundamental for investment in the sector. There were also many comments about the NES potentially impacting afforestation. This was a particular concern raised at the Gisborne workshop.
The precedent effect was of concern for several reasons.
The precedent the NES could generate for other landuses
The precedent the NES could generate for other land uses was raised, particularly the agricultural sector. Questions were raised about sector equity and why the focus on forestry.
The precedent the NES could generate for generic activities
The proposal included a number of activities that were not limited to plantation forestry. These included earthworks, quarrying and river crossings. The rules for these activities under this proposed NES may set a precedent for similar controls in different land uses.
The "permitted baseline" could be used to assess the effects of proposals against the types of land use that were already allowed under the NES. Attendees (especially councils) raised this concern about the implications of the permitted baseline.
The forestry sector was concerned about bundling effects under the NES. Bundling is where different resource consent applications for an activity are considered under the most restrictive activity status. This was particularly relevant for earthworks under the proposed NES.
Bundling is a concept that applies to an NES as it does to resource consents under local authority plan rules. An example of where bundling could occur is earthworks for a road that runs through red, orange and green areas (erosion susceptibility classified areas). The consent for the whole road could be considered under the most restrictive status.
Climate Change Response Act/ NES interface
The proposed NES had links with the Climate Change Response Act 2002 (the Act). It was highlighted that this area needed further analysis as part of the process of developing the NES.
Under the Act, liabilities for deforestation currently fall with the landowner. Any rules within the proposed NES that limit the ability to replant trees could be considered deforestation and trigger these liabilities. This was particularly relevant to proposed setback requirements from water bodies or residential boundaries but would also apply to setbacks from wahi tapu sites and any other rules which restrict replanting.
The Ministry for the Environment and the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry formed a working group to determine the scale of the problem and to look at options.
Policy detail and timing
There were concerns from attendees that the proposed policy was not detailed enough to be able to comment on. Particular concerns were that some rules were ambiguous and too open to interpretation by councils. Examples included, ‘what is the definition of a setback’ and what does ’to achieve 80% ground cover within 18 months of the operation’ actually mean? A second round of consultation was requested to hear the final policy detail, particularly to hear the erosion-mapping detail, if this option was progressed.
Some attendees also felt that the proposal was too prescriptive and there would be a danger here in not being able to incorporate new ideas, methods and technologies in the future.
Ability to be more stringent
One of the objectives of the proposal was to ensure that the approach was appropriate, meaning:
- does not significantly tighten or loosen the regulation for forestry overall (fits with the way plans currently function)
- recognises and accommodates different receiving environments and local values where warranted
- promotes best practice.
To achieve this objective, the proposed NES aimed to take a middle ground approach and then allow for areas where councils could be more stringent. This recognised that it was difficult to create national rules for particular receiving environments and local values. Therefore local control was maintained in some instances.
The majority of these areas/features (in the ‘ability to be more stringent’ list) must be listed in the plan schedule. Some councils were concerned about the cost implications to amend plans to include these features. Councils were concerned about implementation problems in general, especially where plans would have to be amended for the NES policy to slot into the plan.
There was some concern in regions that the proposed NES raises the bar too much and may unfairly impact on companies operating in areas that are currently not strongly regulated. For some areas, the bar would be raised to bring them up to the average level. Then councils could also be more stringent in some cases, causing a level of uncertainty for forestry provisions. In other regions there was concern that the bar would be lowered and there may be negative environmental impacts as a consequence.
Again, there was concern about the lack of detail in the ‘ability to be more stringent’ and the inclusion of some features like wahi tapu sites.
Receiving environments differ significantly around the country. Creating a NES that caters for all these environments nationally was difficult. Some regions noted that the NES would not be beneficial to their region and would mean a significant tightening of rules while others noted that rules would be loosened.
Some councils noted that they maintain good relationships with the forestry sector. They were concerned that the NES would make the council reactive and create more costs that could impact on their relationships with the forestry sector.
The proposed riparian setbacks were discussed at most of the workshops.
Some regions felt that the objective of the setbacks (to establish a protective riparian buffer of indigenous vegetation) would not happen as there was no seed source. Only pest species like broom and gorse may establish in these setbacks, which would not count as regeneration under the NZ Emissions Trading Scheme and would create more problems for regional pest management.
Other regions wanted plantation forestry planted within the riparian zone to help with stream bank stabilisation. One region noted that the 3m threshold for channel width was too low and it should be extended to 5m.
Erosion Susceptibility Classification
The NES proposed an erosion susceptibility classification. Some attendees were concerned that as the mapping exercise had not been done, they could not understand and comment on it.
Many other questions that the Ministry were unable to answer at that point included, what scale would the classification system be, what databases would be used, how would it affect the afforestation schemes? The Ministry planned to form a working group to work through these issues and decide whether to pursue this classification system.
The NES development process and next steps
There were a number of questions and comments regarding the process of developing the proposal, including timeframes. The submission period was restricted to six weeks. People noted that this coincided with the Local Government elections.
Submissions closed on 18th October 2010.
After the workshops the Ministry planned to form a working group to look at the submissions and draft a final policy, should the option of an NES be pursued.
Areas of focus were thought likely to be:
- the Climate Change Response Act/NES interface
- the erosion susceptibility classification
- pest issues, including wilding trees
- water issues.
A full cost benefit analysis would also be completed as part of the next step. Many attendees stated that a second round of consultation should occur to consult on the final policy, especially if it changed significantly and the erosion susceptibility classification system was advanced.