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Green light for forestry?

August 07, 2017


Partners Matt Conway, Sarah Scott, James Winchester
Special Advisors Duncan Laing

Resource Management Act

The National Environmental Standard for Plantation Forestry (NES) was made on 31 July 2017 and comes into force on 1 May 2018 (read it here). Like other recent reform in the RMA arena, it is intended to reduce the complexity and inconsistency of the current system. For the forestry industry the NES seems likely to achieve this goal. For local authorities however, there will be an extra workload in terms of monitoring the permitted activities that are a feature of the NES, and a limited ability to charge for doing so.

This is by far the most comprehensive NES released to date, and arguably represents a plan chapter in itself.

Simpson Grierson has extensive experience in advising on national direction instruments under the RMA, and their implications for policy and consents. We outline the key issues covered by the NES below.

What activities are captured by the NES?

  • The NES defines "plantation forest" or "plantation forestry" as a forest deliberately established for commercial purposes, being at least 1 hectare of continuous forest cover that has been planted, and has or will be harvested or replanted.
  • Eight "plantation forestry activities" are then defined and given an activity status: afforestation, pruning and thinning to waste, earthworks, river crossings, forestry quarrying, harvesting, mechanical land preparation, and replanting. Generally these activities are permitted when carried out in accordance with specified conditions.
  • Activity status under the NES makes extensive use of an electronic "Erosion Susceptibility Classification" tool, under which all land in New Zealand is assigned to four categories of erosion susceptibility according to risk: low (green), moderate (yellow), high (orange), and very high (red). Plantation forestry activities are generally permitted in green zones, and some are also permitted in yellow and orange zones.
  • The NES makes use of the new ability for local authorities to charge for monitoring permitted activities, established through the latest amendments to the RMA. However, the NES only allows this for four of the permitted activities: earthworks, river crossings, forestry quarrying, and harvesting. This leaves a significant number of permitted activities for which councils cannot recover monitoring costs (including monitoring whether afforestation and replanting are meeting the NES regulations on wilding tree risk and control).

How do local authorities implement the NES?

  • Local authorities have almost nine months to identify any plan rules that duplicate or conflict with the NES, or which deal with the same effects. As soon as practicable after 1 May 2018, those rules must be removed from the plan and/or proposed plans, without using Schedule 1 of the RMA.
  • The NES also permits plan rules that are more stringent than the NES. Stringency is allowed for any rule that gives effect to a freshwater objective developed to give effect to the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management, and for any rule that gives effect to any of policies 11, 13, 15 and 22 of the New Zealand Coastal Policy Statement. Stringency is also allowed for rules that recognise and provide for protection of outstanding natural features and landscapes, significant natural areas, and a specific list of "unique and sensitive environments".
  • Councils may also wish to consider plan changes, to insert new rules of the type that are allowed to be more stringent than the NES.
  • The NES does not regulate some types of effects and some forestry-related activities, such as effects on cultural and historic heritage and the effects of logging truck movements. These continue to fall within the scope of regional and district plan rules. Local authorities will need to identify these rules or consider plan changes to insert them.
  • Councils will also need to prepare for the new monitoring regime, and follow the process in new section 36(1)(cc) for setting charges.

Our team is available to assist with any queries or provide more detailed advice regarding the interpretation and implementation of the NES.