New national standards for Forestry sector

National Environmental Standards for Plantation Forestry (NES-PF) will come into effect on 1 May 2018 in an attempt to get greater consistency across the country

Plantation forestry is New Zealand’s third largest primary sector. According to the Ministry for the Environment and the Ministry for Primary Industries, it employs over 26,000 people and generates around $5 billion in export earnings each year.

Together with these positive social and economic effects, plantation forests also provide environmental benefits such as improving water quality, controlling erosion, and providing a temporary carbon sink. On the other hand, plantation forestry activities can adversely affect the environment if not well managed, with the greatest risk occurring when land is exposed during harvesting or earthworks.

Rules contained in Regional and District Plans to manage such effects vary however, and while some of these variations reflect local differences and community priorities, they can cause problems for the many forest owners who manage forests in two or more regions or have forests that straddle council boundaries.

This has the potential to result in increased costs, uncertainty and inconsistent environmental outcomes. In response, and given the dominance of forestry from both a geographical and economic sense, enter the ‘National Environmental Standard’ approach allowed for under the Resource Management Act 1991 (RMA).

National Environmental Standards (NES) are regulations made under the RMA. They set out technical standards, methods or requirements relating to matters under the RMA and unlike Regional or District Plans pertaining to different regions and towns, they are intended to provide consistent rules across the country by setting planning requirements for certain specified activities.

Rules within an NES prevail over rules in a Regional or District Plan except where a NES may specifically allow more stringent rules to be developed if specific issues in a Region or District require this.

The National Environmental Standards for Plantation Forestry (NES-PF) will come into effect on 1 May 2018, and will follow five existing NES’s, these being:

  • National Environmental Standards for Air Quality
  • NationalEnvironmentalStandardforSourcesofDrinkingWater
  • National Environmental Standards for Telecommunication Facilities
  • National Environmental Standards for Electricity Transmission Activities
  • National Environmental Standard for Assessing and Managing Contaminants in Soil to Protect Human Health

The NES-PF will apply to any forest greater than one hectare that has been planted specifically for commercial purposes and will be harvested.

The main risks that the NES is seeking to manage include wilding conifer spread, erosion, and disturbance to waterways, particularly while fish are spawning.

  • To manage these risks, its Regulations cover the following 8 core plantation forestry activities that have potential environmental effects:

    • Afforestation (planting new forest)
    • Pruning and thinning-to-waste
    • Earthworks
    • River crossings
    • Forestry quarrying (extraction of rock, sand, or gravel within a plantation forest or for operation of a forest on adjacent land)
    • Harvesting
    • Mechanical land preparation
    • Replanting.

    The regulations applying to these activities are based on good forestry practices, and include:

    • Setbackswhenplantingnexttorivers,lakes,wetlands,and coastal areas – these unplanted strips protect against erosion and sedimentation from afforestation
    • Managementplansforearthworks,forestquarrying,andharvesting activities to identify environmental risks and how they’ll be managed
    • Identification and maintenance of stormwater and sediment control measures for forestry activities.

Like the structure of District and Regional Plans, if forest operators can meet the conditions, the activity is permitted. If not, they must seek a resource consent from their council. In some areas of high erosion susceptibility however, stricter requirements may apply and some forestry activities will not be able to be carried out without resource consent.

This is a serious piece of legislation, and to this effect, Councils will be able to charge to recover the costs of monitoring permitted activities that have a high risk of environmental effects if conditions are not complied with.

The sector will certainly experience change – Councils will require greater resourcing, foresters are likely to require assistance from private providers and monitoring requirements are likely to increase, and may involve on-going programmes.