MP questions tree-planting for freshwater

The Clutha River near Kaitangata, South Otago. Photo: John Cosgrove
The Clutha River near Kaitangata, South Otago. Photo: John Cosgrove
Serious concerns remain among rural residents over freshwater proposals, a southern MP says.

Citing an August 2019 Landcare Research sediment mitigation report for the Ministry for the Environment, Clutha-Southland MP Hamish Walker said ‘‘blanket’’ tree-planting proposals now under consideration by the Government were unrealistic and would be damaging to rural communities.

Part of the report considers the level of afforestation (tree-planting) required in the Clutha catchment to reduce freshwater sediment towards a new ‘‘bottom line’’ proposed target.

It concludes Clutha would require ‘‘the largest area of afforestation’’ of the catchments in the study, at 375,300 ha, or about 18% of the total catchment area.

That would necessitate a change to rural practices and landscapes that would signal ‘‘the end of the Clutha catchment as we know it’’, and was a matter of serious concern to his rural constituents, Mr Walker said.

‘‘Trees are a very important part of our ecosystem, but requiring blanket plantings to meet impossible targets will destroy communities, not improve them.

‘‘These policies are setting people up to fail. We need to be supporting and encouraging the good environmental work our farmers are already doing to improve water quality and make sure those living in urban areas are doing all they can as well.’’

Federated Farmers environment and water spokesman Chris Allen acknowledged sediment was an issue requiring action, but questioned the wisdom of a ‘‘one-size-fits-all’’ policy to address it.

‘‘If we look at the Clutha catchment, some of the sediment is naturally occurring in the headwaters. So first we need to look catchment by catchment to ensure targets are set appropriately for local conditions, and that they address the relevant local sediment sources.’’

‘‘Wholesale’’ planting of trees was not the solution, he said.

‘‘If you set a national bottom line with limited mitigation measures, you risk farmers going bankrupt to meet arbitrary targets.’’

A Ministry for the Environment spokeswoman said although the bottom line proposal would apply nationally, councils and communities would set the parameters.

‘‘It’s important to note that modelling does not prescribe how bottom lines are set. Regional councils in consultation with communities and tangata whenua will determine how and over what timeframe to implement [local measures].’’

New regulations are expected to be in force mid-year, once an Independent Advisory Panel review of submissions is complete.

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