Native forest barriers will be planted on the East Coast in a game-changing initiative to protect waterways against forestry slash and silt in future storms.
East Coast landowner Aratu Forests has signed a 90-year agreement that gives environmental land use business eLandNZ the right to plant and manage areas that are no longer suitable for production forestry.
It follows two years of research and negotiation after masses of forestry debris inundated Tolaga Bay during a storm in 2018.
The Riparian Project will involve removing slash from hillsides and landings, with plans to one day turn these offcuts into a “valuable export”.
The other element is to stabilise land that has been harvested by creating permanent forests within all riparian zones, steep and unstable areas and environmentally sensitive areas.
eLandNZ will start planting permanent native forest barriers on approximately 180 hectares of Aratu estate inland of Tolaga Bay this year.
eLandNZ managing director Sheldon Drummond said it was a “game-changer” for New Zealand's forestry industry.
“It hasn't been done before. It hasn't been contemplated seriously by plantation forest owners in New Zealand.”
In a presentation to Gisborne District Councillors last week, Mr Drummond said they expected it to make “positive disruptive changes” to the industry.
“It is a bit of a mentality change. Somewhat disgraced I stand here quite honestly and say I used to purchase farms for forest companies and clear the scrub and plant them.
“I see it a totally different way now because I've been around long enough to know what happens, but when you buy a farm like that, you plant every hectare you can with trees because that's how the numbers work.
“But it is not sustainable.”
The project will involve planting a range of native species, including belts of larger podocarp trees, flax along riversides and larger zones of manuka.
“When you talk about permanent forest, that's not something that happens tomorrow, it's not something that happens next week or next year, or even in the next decade or three. It takes a long time.
“It's a really big step up for a forest company with all that money invested — these guys own most of their land — to virtually sign it over for 90 years.”
They would also plant manuka to provide a long-term sustainable manuka honey industry on the property, he said.
“We believe that whatever you do as an environmental solution needs to have a commercial outcome.
“That's how we're proposing to pay for this initially,” Mr Drummond said.
The Riparian Project is backed by Te Aitanga-a-Hauiti, the district council and crown research institute Scion.
Once this project is established, eLandNZ will seek to roll it out nationally, and have already had interest from Marlborough and the Coromandel.
Aratu Forests chief executive Neil Woods said they were keen to be involved in the project and it would see them handing over a “reasonably significant” area of land over time.
“It's not a silver bullet for preventing the logs travelling downstream on to the beach — it's one part of the solution.”
Aratu Forests Ltd, owned by New Forests Ltd, has 35,000 hectares of land under title on the East Coast.
“We see the land we've got as being a mosaic of income and value streams, not a pine plantation. It does need to be commercial and there are more ways to get commercial returns out of a forest than just selling logs.”
Councillors praised the project, with Cr Kerry Worsnop saying it was “inspiring”.
According to the presentation, the East Coast region is the youngest landform in the world, with cretaceous mudstones constantly lifting and shifting.
Extensive land clearance had exacerbated the natural erosion but erosion was often deep-seated and occurred under existing forest cover.
Climatic events have more prevalent over recent years, triggering mass erosion of these fragile soils.