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His comments came at a public meeting on Tuesday night, to discuss the long-term effects of large-scale carbon farming in the headwaters of the Kakanui River, attended by more than 120 people.
Mr Kircher acknowledged he did not know Fairview, a farm near Livingstone, had been converted to carbon forestry until after a large fire in October, and apologised for "that lack of awareness". The forestry was a fuel source for the devastating fire that occurred.
New Zealand Carbon Farming (NZCF) planted Fairview some years ago and breached conditions of the Waitaki District Council’s district plan, Mr Kircher said.
"Unfortunately, we didn’t act. I don’t know all of the reasons behind that, but that is something that I think we should apologise to the community for because it’s not something we realised had happened at the time — and then when we did, we didn’t act."
Recently, the council had been dealing with NZCF over Hazeldean, a 2590ha farm, near Tokarahi, which the company had
"What they’ve put to us ... is [a planting plan] that doesn’t require a resource consent. They skirt around the edges to make sure they don’t trigger the resource consent."
The council was monitoring NZCF’s activity, but so far, its plans were permitted in the district plan and did not require resource consent.
"We are doing what we can to make sure that they stay within the rules ... if they give us any reason to be able to do something, I can assure you we will," Mr Kircher said.
The council was also lobbying central government for change to the National Environmental Standards for plantation forestry at present did not cover carbon farming, and Mr Kircher had requested meetings with Cabinet ministers David Parker, James Shaw and Ayesha Verrall.
"Things are too late for Hazeldean but this is about the bigger picture," he said.
The council was seeking further legal advice for a district plan change, which was expected to cost about $100,000. Mr Kircher hoped to have another public meeting later this month.
Those at Tuesday’s meeting cited various environmental concerns, as well as fears that carbon forestry conversions were not subject to the same level of scrutiny as other land use changes.
Five Forks dairy farmer Lyndon Strang, who chaired the meeting, said the Livingstone fire "highlighted how carbon farming could be done poorly".
Carbon farming needed to have the same close scrutiny as any other land-use change, Mr Strang said.
"What we need to do to make sure it’s done right."
Keri Johnston, from environmental consultancy Irricon, said locally, Environment Canterbury and the Waimate District Council were the only regional and district authorities that had set rules in their plans relating to the use of land for carbon forestry.
There were "some holes" in the Waitaki district plan and Otago regional plan that should be addressed, she said.
Te Runanga o Moeraki upoko David Higgins, whose great-great grandfather was a Kakanui chief in 1848 — "that’s how important the river is to me" — said Ngai Tahu was "really concerned" about the Hazeldean development.
"If Gary [Kircher] and the team are trying to encourage national government to do something about this issue, it’s going to be a time issue.
"These guys [NZCF] are completely stripping the land up there at the present time, and they’re going to continue doing that while we’re trying to change the plans."
After the meeting, Five Forks farmer Jane Smith said she had "even less faith" that council regulators would act urgently on the issue.