Mana Taiao Tairāwhiti submission to Inquiry calls for an end to clear-fell harvesting 

A submission to the Ministerial Inquiry on Land Use in Tairāwhiti by residents group Mana Taiao Tairāwhiti is calling for an end to the forestry practice of clear-fell harvesting on erosion-prone land in the region. 

The submission reviewed more than 150 scientific publications and public policy documents using an army of over 100 volunteer researchers from around the region and around the world.

Video produced by Uawa Live with aerial footage of the destruction across multiple catchments in Tairāwhiti.

“We had some amazing talent supporting our effort to undertake a systematic review of all the research studies and official reports on the issues associated with land use in Tairāwhiti” said submission organiser Manu Caddie. “Researchers from the London School of Economics and Cambridge University joined our own experts like Dr Wayne Ngata and Dame Professor Anne Salmond along with dozens of lay people who wanted to help the mammoth effort to understand what the science, community and land itself have been saying over the last 60 years.”

Mr Caddie estimated more than a thousand hours had gone into the project.

“The evidence was overwhelming and has been sitting there in very detailed, very stark warnings for many, many years” said Mr Caddie. 

“While we expect the forestry industry to claim it would spell the collapse of the regional economy, the reality is we are facing economic carnage caused to almost every other industry in the region as a result of the practice. And these are costs the forestry industry seems intent on been passed on to ratepayers and taxpayers. With climate change, that will keep on happening, and is likely to get worse – the viability of human habitation in the region is under threat because we haven’t retired enough land – both farms and pine plantations to permanent native forest.”

One of the publications that touched Mr Caddie most deeply during the research for the submission was a quote from his neighbour growing up in Tauranga. Basil Graeme was the North Island Conservation Officer for Forest & Bird, and after Cyclone Bola in 1990 he wrote an article about the East Coast region for the organisation’s magazine. Mr Caddie says that now reads like a prophecy for the region:

“There is a role for commercial forestry, enhancing the regional economic base, and for catchment management on the better hills close to the plains. However the most cost-effective catchment protection for a huge area between these different plantation types is to allow the bush to return. All this land needs is retirement and pest control; nature will do the rest. It is here in the naturally revegetating lands that conservationists can enhance the process with judicious planting of seed source trees that are regionally scarce. The manuka and scrub species are already there, in pockets and gullies, waiting to do their job.

If it is appropriate for this region to return to subsidised pseudo-commercial forestry, then it is essential to first zone land suitable for commercial forestry and zone out with a green line those lands requiring permanent tree cover. We have enough to pay for without replacing one cycle of inappropriate land use with another. 

The nation does owe a debt to the East Cape. We have had 100 years of wrenching export earnings from these hills. We will all have to pay if the category 3 lands are to be purchased, replanted and retired. We will all have to pay if most of the category 2 lands are to be purchased and retired. Anything less than this commitment to a “green line” is a decision to let the region die.”

The submission by Mana Taiao Tairāwhiti aligns closely with this vision for the region. It calls on regulators to not only stop clear-fell harvesting on erosion-prone land, but to prohibit the planting of any more pine trees on the most erosion-prone areas (zoned Red and Orange). Instead the group cites numerous scientific reports by government and private researchers who recommend the regeneration of a diverse native canopy. 

“There is some excellent science coming from this region that has been either totally ignored or dismissed by successive generations of policy makers in our region and at a national level,” said Mr Caddie. “They were captured by the industry PR machine that claimed pines were the best option for the people and the problem of erosion. The science has been very clear that this is not the case.” 

The submission calls on the Government to overhaul the Emissions Trading Scheme by decoupling forestry carbon credits from the market available to emitters, it also highlights major failings in the National Environmental Standards for Plantations Forests (NES-PF), the national rulebook for plantation forests that Gisborne District Council has opposed since it was introduced in 2010, and it calls for catchment communities to lead the development of a Just Transition Plan for the region to support displaced workers and businesses as erosion-prone pine plantations and farm land are retired. 

“We use the example of the State of Victoria in Australia where the native timber industry has been phased out and the state government has provided $200m to support affected communities with the transition to more sustainable industries. We expect something similar needs to happen here – half of it could go to retraining and redeploying forestry and farm workers, the other half as co-investment in new industries and businesses within the region.”

Mr Caddie said the Government had supported other regions like Taranaki and Southland to transition away from unsustainable industries and the same now needed to happen here.

The submission is accompanied by five papers provided to Mana Taiao Tairāwhiti by subject matter experts covering: changes required to the ETS; problems with the NES-PF; options for financing biodiversity restoration; climate change and forestry in Tairāwhiti; and a technical assessment of the role forestry plantings had in the failure of the Mangahauini Gorge during Cyclone Gabrielle.

The 28 page submission along with a 58 page summary of evidence across the themes of the Inquiry, the database of reviewed publications and the five expert’s papers are available from the Mana Taiao Tairāwhiti website: along with an interactive map of residents’ testimonies and images of land use impacts in their communities.

The group has offered to present a summary of the findings from the research to Gisborne District Council, plans to maintain and update the online knowledge hub and hopes the resources compiled will be used by schools, regulators, industry and researchers into the future.


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