Environmental impact of forestry is wreaking havoc on East Coast communities


Residents of the East Coast are disheartened by the prospect of more logging in the region as the industry expands.

Wairoa Mayor Craig Little.
Photo: RNZ / Tom Kitchin

The Climate Change Commission encourages the planting of thousands of hectares of forest in the decades to come.

But many people in Gisborne and Wairoa say the industry is damaging their pristine environment and ruining communities.

In Tolaga Bay, a small town of around 800 residents almost an hour north of Gisborne, one end of the beach near the famous wharf is almost clear and sandy, with only a touch of woodland nearby.

But at the other end, piles of damaged and bruised logs are still found.

The diggers are still next to the beach, tape and keep the signs taped around.

Instead of an easy route to the water’s edge here, there are lines of backhoes deep in the sand.

While walking his dogs nearby, resident Victor says it’s “disgusting”.

“It’s hard to watch compared to what it was before, especially if you’ve been living here for a long time to know what the beach should be like.”

Tolaga Bay Area school principal Nori Parata shares a similar point of view.

Standing by the waves crashing on the shore at sunset, there is perhaps no more idyllic place in the country.

But she says it was ruined.

“You can see how soul destroying it is and it’s been like that for, is it about seven years?” Something like that.

Parata says his students are passing by.

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“This is our extended classroom, I mean, we’re 100 yards from the shore, the school is, and we would have done a lot of water activities – learning to snorkel, learning to dive. You can see this paradise has a beautiful bay and a beautiful river so the kids have to know how to have fun safely so we can’t do it. “

Wild storms, the worst in June 2018 and July 2020, brought the logs of the Uawa River down from the forest blocks, littering the sand with logging.

While Ūawa Tiaki Tai (Tolaga Bay Surf Lifesaving Club) captain Kerehama Blackman says logging companies are working more closely with the community, his team has had to close the beach several times this year.

Ūawa Tiaki Tai Tolaga Bay Surf Lifesaving Club captain Kerehama Blackman.

Ūawa Tiaki Tai Tolaga Bay Surf Lifesaving Club captain Kerehama Blackman.
Photo: RNZ / Tom Kitchin

“Sixteen years ago you wouldn’t have thought of closing a beach, where now it is normal to remove the red flag, so that means the sea is too dangerous to operate a patrol … it just takes a royal tide to pick up the big logs and keep them in the waves. “

In centers like Gisborne, the noise of logging trucks and the damage they cause to roads cause grief to some people.

Councilor Meredith Akuhata-Brown has lived on the highway between Gisborne and its port for almost 20 years.

Gisborne District Councilor Meredith Akuhata-Brown at her home where logging trucks pass.

Gisborne District Councilor Meredith Akuhata-Brown at her home where logging trucks pass.
Photo: RNZ / Tom Kitchin

She says noise and dust have increased dramatically over the past seven.

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Her family made a few changes to alleviate the problem, but that doesn’t solve everything.

“We spent $ 8,000, maybe more, on double glazing the front windows of our house so that we could have some breathing space, but to be honest…” As she speaks, a truck past.

And at night she says it doesn’t stop.

“You can just take truck after truck after truck, so it impacts us as well socially as I think it does emotionally and mentally.”

The Wairoa District Council recently increased the rates for forest blocks.

His mayor Craig Little says it’s because the community tells him forestry is not good for them.

“The point is, forests plant their land and trees and that’s it,” he says.

Wairoa Mayor Craig Little.

Wairoa Mayor Craig Little.
Photo: RNZ / Tom Kitchin

“Close the doors and come back and mill them instead and the people of Wairoa tell us time and time again that they are contributing absolutely nothing because they are chopping logs and the trucks are going on holus bolus on a truck and overseas. . “

Wairoa’s house prices rose the fastest of any district in the country last year, and forestry got some credit.

But Little disagrees.

“I would probably scoff at forestry claiming credit for all of this, because we don’t see them around the table helping a lot.

Gisborne Mayor Rehette Stoltz says forestry is huge in her area – for every truck on the road, eight families have jobs.

But that comes with her challenges – and she says there’s a key word: “Balance”.

“He’s trying to find that golden balance where we can have a job, but we don’t have the environment [effects] that are the slash on the beach, or so the road impacts that we see, but it’s not an easy balance to find as we all know. “

The Forest Owners Association says it’s working on that balance – for example, a new initiative has just been announced.

In the Aratu forests near Tolaga Bay, a permanent native forest buffer along the waterways is being created.

The association’s technical director, Glen Mackie, says it should make a difference, especially in storms.

“Our standards have actually gotten a lot higher, a lot better over the years, as you might expect, so this is the next iteration, we don’t directly crash into these difficult areas anymore, we recognize that can cause problems. .

Mackie says the foresters have tried to work closely with the Wairoa District Council for several years.

The Climate Change Commission says it traveled through Gisborne and Wairoa during its recent consultation.

He says he recognizes that these areas are probably the most affected by climate change policies, but he also advises reducing the expansion of exotic forestry.

And that takes stock – the commission only gives advice on policy. Government agencies are responsible for taking the next step.

The commission says the government should maintain a “strong dialogue” with these regions.



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