© New Zealand Broadcasting School 2024

Time to slash and burn some of the hate towards the forestry industry

Mikayla Wright
Banner Beach debris
Gisborne beach debris  Supplied by Gisborne District Council

The forestry industry has been the centre of controversy and blame since large-scale weather events hit Aotearoa earlier this year.

Slash run-off has caused extreme damage in floodwaters, however, the industry hasn’t had the chance to voice its side. 

The Green Party has called on forestry companies to pay compensation to councils, landowners and communities for the damage caused by slash during Cyclone Gabrielle. 

1News recently carried out a public poll asking whether forestry companies should pay compensation, with most agreeing. 

Although they do not deny the effects of the slash up north, some harvest workers are becoming frustrated that the public is not seeing the hard mahi being put in to meet stringent environmental standards and actively seek solutions to mitigate slash. 

According to the National Environmental Standard for Plantation Forestry (NESPF) slash is “any tree waste left behind after plantation forest activities”. This only covers debris associated with harvesting, although it also occurs in native forests and where trees have died or branches have fallen from natural events. All potentially end up in run-off.

M&R Forestland Management harvesting manager Wayne Wells says many forestry companies in New Zealand, such as Tasman Pine and his company, have moved to safe practices of slash removal. They avoid pushing slash over the edge of a skid site and instead cart it away to a stable, safe position, considerably reducing the risk of slash run-off.

Tasman Pine Forest wood chips
Tasman Pine Ltd - piles of slash to wood chips Supplied by Angela Mackenzie

Wells’s company also has a full-time freshwater ecologist, Anna Batty, who is highly involved in the harvest planning, to protect the waterways. 

Wells says looking after water quality is very impactful - in theory it means you’re looking after sedimentation, which comes from slips. He says there’s a younger generation coming through with more science behind them, pulling everyone up to better standards.

“The industry is going in the right direction I believe, it’s like anything, it takes a while to get there.”

Stream picture
Stream in forest Mikayla Wright

The Top of the South Wood Council says slash has been viewed as an under-utilised resource but this is changing, with initiatives to realise the potential of the resource on a large scale being investigated.

Tasman Pine Forests own and manage 37,000ha of plantation forest in the Marlborough region. They have recently undertaken chipping their slash on-site to be converted into biomass hog fuel or used as a mulch. Nelson-based company Azwood is an example of a successful company producing wood fuels from forestry residue. The aim is to convert large facilities like hospitals, factories and others to use these types of fuel over fossil fuels like coal.

Azwood Wood Chips Grinding
Azwood Brightwater plant - wood chips grinding Supplied by Azwood Energy

The Council’s executive office, Angela Mackenzie, says work is also going into looking at slash residues and their potential application both on and off site, including future aspirations to convert slash on-site to power machines. 

The government is currently holding a ministerial inquiry into land use causing woody debris, including forestry slash, and sediment-related damage. The panel's recommendations are expected by the end of April. 

Mackenzie supports the inquiry, saying it would be useful for the industry to know what practices are working as intended, and ensuring appropriate resources are available to support the adoption of any new industry standards. 

“Resourcing around more in-depth mapping layers, infrastructure to support maximising the potential of forestry waste material and support for transitioning land use.”

Wells also supports the inquiry, stating there is always room to learn. He hopes the greater industry gets behind it as it would be good for bigger forestry organisations to be prompted in the right direction to be more environmentally-centred over cost-driven.

He says although it costs more - slash can be managed effectively, but some companies still need to make it a priority.