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RUN, FOREST, RUN! NATIONAL ENVIRONMENTAL STANDARDS FOR PLANTATION FORESTRY COMES INTO EFFECT MAY 2018
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The long anticipated National Environmental Standard for Plantation Forestry (NES-PF) comes into force on 1 May 2018.

The NES-PF sets the nationwide environmental regulations to manage New Zealand’s 1.7 million hectares of plantation forestry. For background on the development of the NES-PF, see our previous newsflash. The changes provide more certain and streamlined consenting of forestry activities, which will support the Government’s investment in this important national industry.

The objectives of the NES-PF are:

  • to maintain or improve the environmental outcomes associated with plantation forestry activities nationally; and
  • to increase certainty and efficiency in the management of plantation forestry activities.

The NES-PF applies to any forest which is at least 1 hectare of continuous forest cover that has deliberately been established for commercial purposes to be harvested or replanted. The NES-PF rules will apply to any of the complying activities listed below, and effectively override the applicable district and regional plan rules. The NES-PF does not apply to activities relating to trees grown for fruit, nut crops, shelter belts or nurseries. It also does not affect vegetation clearance that is carried out before afforestation, or activities outside the boundaries of the forest land, such as the effects of logging trucks using public roads. Existing district and regional rules will continue to govern these activities and effects.

The permitted activities

The NES-PF provides for 8 core plantation forestry activities as permitted activities, subject to compliance with specified permitted activity standards. The standards have been drafted with the intention of enabling forestry whilst managing adverse environmental effects. These permitted activities are:

  • Afforestation (planting of a new forest);
  • Pruning and thinning to waste (selective felling of trees where the felled trees remain on site);
  • Earthworks;
  • River crossings;
  • Forestry quarrying (extraction of rock, sand, or gravel within a plantation forest or for operation of a forest on adjacent land);
  • Harvesting;
  • Mechanical land preparation; and
  • Replanting.

In addition, the following activities associated with plantation forestry activities are permitted, subject to compliance with permitted activity standards:

  • Slash traps (structures set in a river, on the bed of a river, or on land to trap any tree waste mobilised by water);
  • Indigenous and non-indigenous vegetation clearance (subject to area limits);
  • Discharges, disturbances, and diversions;
  • Noise and vibration;
  • Dust;
  • Activities occurring in indigenous bird nesting areas; and
  • Fuel storage and refuelling.

Examples of permitted activity standards include setbacks for afforestation, submission of harvest plans to council, as well as installation and maintenance of stormwater and sediment control measures for earthworks. For most permitted activities, notice is required to be given to the relevant regional or district council within a specified time period prior to commencing harvesting.

If forest owners/operators can meet the regulatory requirements in the permitted activity standards, the activities will not require resource consent. However, if they cannot comply with the standards, resource consent must be obtained from the relevant council.

Impact on forest owners/operators

The NES-PF has been put forward on the expectation of delivering better environmental outcomes while lowering compliance and operational costs for the forestry sector. Previously, the environmental effects of forestry activities were managed through regional and district plans. As a result the rules between and within regions varied. For large forests across multiple local authority areas, this variance created a complex planning framework with inconsistent rules, conditions and operation requirements. A consistent set of regulations applying across the country should reduce this complexity, and will hopefully reduce consenting and compliance costs, improve productivity and provide greater certainty for the forestry industry.

The NES-PF also recognises the need for flexibility to enable councils to protect sensitive local environments. The provisions specifically allow for more stringent district or regional plan rules to override the NES-PF where the rule:

  • Gives effect to a freshwater objective developed to give effect to the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management or specified policies in the New Zealand Coastal Policy Statement 2010;
  • Recognises and provides for the protection of significant natural areas and outstanding natural features and landscapes; or
  • Manages unique and sensitive environments, such as geothermal areas and drinking water supplies.

Moving forward, it is important for forest owners and those who have forestry rights to be aware of the permitted activities under the NES-PF, and the extent to which the permitted activity standards apply. There are also requirements to prepare and keep records of plans relating to forestry earthworks, harvest, and quarry erosion and sediment management. We will watch this development carefully and in particular the extent to which it encourages and supports the regeneration of the plantation forestry as an industry.

If you would like to discuss the implications of the NES-PF for your current and future operations, please contact Christina Sheard, Marija Batistich or Nicky McIndoe. For background on the impacts that amendments to the Overseas Investment Act will have upon the sale of forestry rights, please see our latest article here.

Our thanks to Jenny Chung for the preparation of this newsflash.

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