It has taken six years to develop the proposed National Environmental Standard for Plantation Forestry (NES-PF), which aims to remove unwarranted variation and promote consistent planning rules for plantation forestry across regions.
The NES-PF seeks to achieve this by establishing a technical standard for plantation forestry activities (determining when an activity is permitted or requires consent), which will supersede rules for plantation forestry in district or regional plans. The goal is that forest owners who operate across district or regional boundaries will no longer need to comply with two or more planning systems.
“Plantation forestry” has been defined in the draft rules as at least one hectare of planted forest cover that has been or will be harvested, including all associated internal infrastructure. There are certain exclusions, such as fruit and nut crops and nurseries and seed orchards.
Mechanically, the NES-PF will work by setting activity-specific rules for eight “core activities” related to plantation forestry in order to manage adverse environmental effects from the activities. The core activities cover the whole plantation life cycle, and are: mechanical land preparation, afforestation, earthworks, forest quarrying, river crossings, pruning and thinning-to-waste, harvesting and replanting.
The approach of the NES-PF is that plantation forestry activities are permitted (i.e. will not require consent provided performance standards are met) where possible, but stricter standards and/or consent will be required where the activities would create adverse effects on the environment.
An essential element of the NES-PF is the use of environmental risk assessment tools, which assess the local environmental conditions. There are three tools: the Erosion Susceptibility Classification, the Fish Spawning Indicator and the Wilding Spread Risk Calculator. Forestry owners will need to come to grips with the how the environmental risk assessment tools apply to a site, in order to determine what measures/restrictions apply to their operations.
There are some important general standards imposed under the core activity rules, for both permitted activities and where consent is required. In particular, all forest owners harvesting trees will need to prepare a Harvest Plan and in some cases a Sediment Control Plan, and when earthworks are carried out a Forest Quarry Management Plan will be required. These plans must be made available to councils at least 20 working days before a relevant activity is conducted.
Despite streamlining rules on a national level, the new regulations are heavy on paper work, and record keeping will be crucial.
What is the impact for forest owners with existing resource consents?
It is intended the NES-PF will only apply to new applications for resource consent lodged after it comes into effect, so existing resource consents/applications will not be affected. In limited circumstances where a council can review an existing resource consent under s 128 of the Resource Management Act 1991, the NES-PF might be considered in such a review.
On the other hand, where the conditions of an existing consent are more stringent than the NES-PF rules require, it is suggested that those consent holders should discuss the status of their consent with the consenting authority, and it may be sensible for forest owners to convert consents to the new regime.
MPI has said there will be a lead in time, 6-12 months after notification, before the regulations come into force, giving affected parties time to adapt to the new standards. Information and templates (for Harvest Plans etc.) will be available from MPI after notification, which is expected in April 2017.
If you would like to discuss the implications of the NES-PF for your current and future operations, or if you would like assistance with record-keeping, please contact Nicky McIndoe.
Find out more on the MPI website
Our thanks to Jessica Orsman for preparation of this newsflash.