Petition calls for inquiry into Tairāwhiti forestry practices, iwi wants it to go further

By James Perry

A petition calling for an independent inquiry into the environmental practices in Te Tairāwhiti that caused widespread devastation from Cyclone Hale has so far gathered more than 4000 signatures in 24 hours.

The petition, launched by Mana Taiao Tairāwhiti, which represents farmers, landowners, fruit growers and conservation workers, also wants to see local and central government do more to prevent further erosion and forestry byproducts such as slash washed away into waterways in what has been labelled an "ecological disaster" by the author of the petition, Hera Ngata-Gibson.

Ngata-Gibson sees a bleak future for families who choose to stay on the East Coast as weather events and damage to infrastructure, homes and schools seem to be increasing.

“We are sick of seeing the carnage created by forestry slash in our awa and along the coast. After years of expensive litigation, it seems Gisborne District Council is still unable to set rules that protect the environment and it is impacting on our ability to live on our own lands.”

The petition comes after Forestry Minister Stuart Nash told RNZ earlier this week an inquiry wasn't needed. Rather the forestry industry needed to talk to key stakeholders to find solutions to the problem of forestry waste flowing through rivers.

Iwi backs petition

"What I do think needs to happen is forestry companies need to sit down with key stakeholders, be they the government or the NZ Forest Service but also local communities and territorial authorities to say 'OK. We do have an issue here, let's work together to come up with solutions," Nash told Morning Report on Monday.

The petition has the backing of Rongowhakaata Iwi Trust kaihautū Teina Moetara, who says while his iwi doesn't have forestry in its rohe, the effects of forestry in surrounding rohe continually impact local waterways including Waikanae Beach in Gisborne and the mouth of the Waipaoa River.

"All of the rivers, though, will end up inside Rongowhakaata territory. And so we get the consequences of the outflow. Those are the issues that we would have to address because they directly impact our coastline. And that's the issue that we face primarily as Rongowhakaata."

Moetara isn't surprised at how quickly the petition has gained support, saying it's a sign the Tairāwhiti community has lost confidence in the policies since changes were made in 2017.

"The consequences that we see on the ground are devastating and they continue to be devastating. 

"The community can see it, and can touch it. And the policies don't reflect what's happening on the ground level. I support the petition, I'm quite disappointed that the attitude has been no response and that in terms of an inquiry into the practices."

No scapegoats

While much of the focus in the wake of Cyclone Hale has been on the effects of forestry, Moetara says he hopes the industry itself isn't left to be the scapegoat for a wider issue.

"When we're having a discussion of resource consents to clear the wharf of a pileup of sediment, we know that sediment is coming from bad farming practices, and equally bad forestry practices, but they're treated separately or inside of their own little containers.

"So while the Environmental Defence Society puts forward its position about an inquiry on forestry practices, we wanted to put our hands up to say we support that but we're also really conscious that there are many things that are at play here, and our time scope for remediation is a lot longer than governments that are in for a particular period of time."