Following the recent buyout of the Crown lease on the Whangapoua forest block, new operator, Summit Forests NZ, held a public information meeting in the Kūaotunu Hall on Wednesday last week. Summit is a whollyowned subsidiary of the giant Japanese
Sumitomo Corporation, which has been in operation for 400 plus years, and which has other forestry interests in Whanganui, Gisborne and the Far North.
Local interest in the future of the Whangapoua Forest is high and a number of people turned out to hear Summit introduce themselves and explain their plans for the forest block.
For many of those present at the meeting, it looks like business as usual. Forest manager, Norbert Klein, and forest supervisor, Glenn Bradley, are both familiar faces. They have both been involved in the management of the Whangapoua Forest for many years and are well engaged with the local community on issues of concern.
It is the longer-term issues associated with forestry that local people are preoccupied with.
The downstream effects of logging, not just on the forest estate, but on surrounding land as well, received a lot of attention. Prior to leasing the forest estate, the state-owned Forestry Corporation planted large tracts of land in pine. It’s the wholesale harvesting of these blocks that has traditionally caused the most ecological damage.
The turning point was undoubtedly the 2018 Tolaga Bay flooding event, which saw millions of tons of forest debris washed downstream, devastating the Tolaga Bay settlement and leaving the beach strewn with forestry waste. This event cast a spotlight on the entire industry and underlined the need to implement national environmental standards for forestry management.
It was the local Whangapoua Forest management team that led the development of many of the current practices in environmental management and that work is ongoing. The consent conditions for the Whangapoua Forest are now national standards.
The most serious environmental impact from forestry operations is typically from the development of forestry roads and infrastructure, but these assets are all in place throughout the Whangapoua block and Summit is focused on doing what they can to limit and contain the impact within the forest areas.
Going forward, Summit has divided the Whangapoua Forest into 20 catchments and decreed that no more than 30 percent of any catchment will be cleared in any five-year period. Tree felling and retrieval techniques have been refined to enable selective felling and avoid any “brush” effect of felled trees being retrieved from the forest. Planting margins have been increased around riparian areas to try and prevent silt and waste washing downstream.
Cleared areas are oversewn with grass seed to help manage erosion. Old culverts have been replaced with larger versions to better manage weather events and flumes have been installed to better manage the run-off.
Replanting of felled areas in the Whangapoua Forest is scheduled to start on 1 July and this year more than 150,000 new seedlings will be planted. About 7,600ha of the forest will comprise managed forestry, with more than 3,000ha set aside for corridors and environmental management. The strategic approach to planting and felling helps to limit the environmental footprint of logging activity.
NIWA and Waikato District Council are both actively engaged in monitoring and managing the impact of forestry on the Coromandel Peninsula, to ensure that the environment is strictly protected.
During the 12-month negotiations to obtain the Whangapoua forest block lease, Summit seems to have fully appreciated the sensitivity of forestry operations on the Coromandel. Ecology projects designed to protect the Archey and Hochstetter frog populations are already underway. Mining remains the elephant in the room for many people on the Peninsula. Summit was at pains to point out that their lease extends to the Whangapoua Forest only and does not include any mineral rights. OceanaGold has exploration rights and Summit is technically powerless to intervene in the event that OceanaGold decided to pursue mining in the area.
Pictured is the Summit Forests NZ team who attended the public information meeting in Kūaotunu on Wednesday last week. From the left: Henare Walker (Ngāti Porou), Richard Cook, Norbert Klein, Takashi Sasaoka and Shane Dinsley.