Oliver Hendrickson outlines the new national environmental standards for plantation forestry.
In August last year, the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) and the Ministry for the Environment launched a new nationwide set of regulations to manage plantation forestry activities.
The National Environmental Standards for Plantation Forestry (NES-PF) will come into force on May 1, this year, replacing the current system where regional and district council plan provisions control forestry activities and associated environmental outcomes.
The lack of nationally-consistent rules has sometimes caused difficulty for the forestry industry. Around 300 forest owners (whose forests account for 80 percent of the nation’s plantation estate) have plantations that straddle local government boundaries or manage forests in more than one region of the country.
The nationwide regulations cover core activities in the life cycle of a commercial forest – afforestation, pruning and thinning-to-waste, earthworks, river crossings, forest quarrying, harvesting, mechanical land preparation, and replanting.
Most forestry activities are permitted by the NES-PF provided foresters meet the permitted activity conditions. If not, they will need to apply to council for a resource consent.
The NES-PF recognises there will be instances where it will not be possible to manage locally-significant issues through a set of rules that apply nationally. The regulations allow councils to impose more stringent rules to give effect to the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management and the New Zealand Coastal Policy Statement and to manage unique and sensitive environments.
Councils will no longer need to develop forestry-specific rules in their plans for activities covered by the NES-PF or include forestry activities under general plan rules. This should reduce the costs of plan development and litigation.
The NES-PF is supported by three tools that assist councils in making decisions as to whether resource consents will be needed.
The Erosion Susceptibility Classification divides the New Zealand landscape into four categories. Land designated as green (low) or yellow (moderate) is considered unlikely to pose a significant risk of erosion and so forestry activities are permitted, subject to the permitted activity conditions in the regulations.
Some forestry activities on land designated orange (high) and red (very high) will require resource consents.
While the tool is not available until May 2018, the database is available to download on the MPI website.
The Fish Spawning Indicator indicates the likelihood of 33 vulnerable freshwater fish species being present in New Zealand waterways and their spawning times.
Again, the tool will not be available until May 2018. The database is available to download on the MPI website.
Finally, the Wilding Tree Calculator allows foresters to work out the risk of the spread of wilding trees from any forest they are planning. Foresters have to supply the results of their calculations to the relevant council and, where the risk score exceeds a certain threshold, afforestation will require a resource consent.
Council can request copies of management plans that the NES-PF requires foresters to draw up for harvesting, erosion and sediment management during forest quarrying, and for earthworks.
Forest owners and operators will need to assess the potential environmental risk of these activities as it relates to their particular site and describe how they will carry out operations to comply with the conditions and avoid, remedy or mitigate these environmental risks.
In some cases, it may not be possible to meet the conditions as laid out in the regulations, or the land may be classified as having a higher environmental risk. In these cases, a resource consent will be required.
It’s recognised that council staff in planning, consenting, and monitoring and compliance roles will need time to understand the regulations, how they relate to other rules in their plans and to wider legislation, and to develop systems to use them.
To assist this process, MPI has developed a range of guidance material available on its website.
This article was first published in the April 2018 issue of NZ Local Government Magazine.