Media release by the Council of Outdoor Recreation Associations of NZ

Disastrous government policy

An outdoor and conservation forum says the loss of a boy’s life at Waikanae Beach near Gisborne and devastation to rural communities show the obsession by government with planting pine trees is not only environmentally disastrous but in terms of people’s well-being. 

Andi Cockroft, chairman of the Council of Outdoor Recreation Associations, said government and the corporate forestry industry must bear moral responsibility for the child’s death as well as the devastation to communities and the environment.

“The Labour-led Government’s ‘One Billion Trees’ dream was short-sighted,” he said. “The ambitious policy championed by NZ First’s Shane Jones was foolish — the Green and Labour Parties were parties to the stupidity and now the loss of human life and destruction of rural farms and homes.”

The pine monoculture is mainly foreign owned

He said the littering of North Island east coast beaches was akin to environmental vandalism.

“It’s not just the North Island’s east coast either,” added Andi Cockroft. “The uncontrolled planting of pines, lately for carbon trading is environmentally damaging.” 

“Monocultures of pine trees in many parts of New Zealand have been an environmental disaster with depleted stream flows and heavy siltation of rivers and estuaries following clear felling logging.”

“The forestry industry is over 80% foreign owned and the corporate overseas-based companies have little interest in the environment or human values. Their overwhelmingly top priority is to maximise profits. Face it, it’s the undeniable corporate culture”

He emphasised the forestry interests whether overseas or New Zealand were doing nothing illegal. The failure is with both the National and Labour-led governments of the last two decades.

Past attention about water and river quality had almost exclusively focused on so-called “dirty dairying” but there were other land-use questions to be answered.

The dangers of clear felling

The practice in NZ of clear felling pines exposed steep hill country to heavy runoff of silt and debris, when rains occurred. But run-off could be reduced by two-stage harvesting of forests, as apparently  practised in Europe where felling is in done in two cuts perhaps 12 months apart, along contours thus reducing runoff. 

Another ill-effect of forestry monoculture was lowered pH levels i.e. acidification of the soils and therefore increased acidic runoff into waterways. 

“The pH level (degree of acidity) is important to both bottom fauna and subsequently aquatic life such as indigenous fish and trout. If the pH drops below 5.5 (increased acidity) then long term damage to the freshwater fishery, both native and trout, occurs.” 

Pine trees take much more water from the environment than native vegetation and reports were where pines have been planted, stream flows were noticeably less and even disappeared. 

One Malaysian owned forestry corporate in Marlborough had eroded extremely steep hill country with extensive slipping resulting and burned native bush. The Marlborough Sounds inner inlets had been badly silted up smothering the ecosystem and causing fishery declines.

Better harvesting regimes needed

Urgent study and policy should aim to implement better harvesting regimes as practised in Europe, zoning of land use to avoid extensive pine forest monocultures and making mandatory creation of 50 metre buffer zones along all rivers and streams.

Sadly, enforcement of current legislation by the responsible authorities is extremely lacking, with only scant measures taken to ensure compliance with the law. Even then, compared to the profits, any fines are trivial. The tragedy at Waikanae might have been avoided had the local Council done their job!