Fears over forestry of ‘ecological disaster’

A public meeting will be held in North Otago tomorrow to discuss the long term effects of large-scale forest farming in the headwaters of the Kakanui River.

It follows public concern over the recent sale of Hazeldean, a 2590ha sheep, beef and deer farm, near Tokarahi, to New Zealand Carbon Farming.

Tomorrow night’s meeting, in the Weston Hall at 7.30pm, has been organised by local community members, who have described such developments as creating an "ecological disaster" for the Kakanui River and North Otago.

They cited concerns which included clearance of native vegetation, potential for wetlands drying up, reduced flow in the river, reduced water quality, plantation debris into the river system during heavy rain events, and the potential for a haven for pests.

New Zealand Carbon Farming, the owner of the largest New Zealand-owned permanent forestry estate, previously told the Otago Daily Times it established permanent regenerating carbon forests, meaning planted in pine then actively managed to return to 100% indigenous forests.

It said it carefully managed all of its forests, employing local people to work year-round on tree and estate management, predator control and enhanced native tree growth.

Retired farmer Bruce McNab said he recently took a look at the area overlooking the confluence of the north and south branches of the Kakanui River.

It was a "real eye-opener" as he saw the "beautiful vegetation" running up the gullies, and the "beautiful clean water".

That vegetation included kowhai, broadleaf, manuka and pittosporum.

Originally from the Catlins, where he conserved bush which was still standing, Mr McNab had also been involved in setting up the New Zealand Landcare Trust.

Mr McNab said New Zealand Carbon Farming’s mission statement must be challenged. To state Pinus radiata plantations could be actively managed to encourage the regeneration of indigenous forests was "nonsense".

Land covered in lowland podocarp bush or high country native shrub species could not co-exist with densely planted radiata pine on the same area, he said, and preparation for exotic carbon forests involved wiping out native vegetation with chemicals, he said.

Among those attending the public meeting would be representatives from the Department of Conservation, Otago Regional Council and Waitaki District Council.

A recent Waitaki District Council report suggested a district plan change under the Resource Management Act as the council attempted to rein in carbon farming.

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