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Harvesting rules in the National Environmental Standards for Plantation Forestry

Elizabeth Heeg, New Zealand Tree Grower November 2017.

This article provides an overview of harvesting activities in the National Environmental Standards for Plantation Forestry. It is not intended to be used as guidance or as a replacement for the regulations. A full review of the standards is required for each forestry project’s compliance requirements as these will differ depending on the nature of the harvesting and location.

The National Environmental Standards for Plantation Forestry, the NES-PF, will come into effect on 1 May 2018. It provides one consistent set of regulations for plantation forestry which will apply nationally, in place of most of the existing regional and district council rules for plantation forestry activities. The regulations cover the eight main plantation forestry activities – afforestation, pruning and thinning to waste, earthworks, river crossings, forestry quarrying, harvesting, mechanical land preparation and replanting.

A main feature of the NES-PF is that it is risk-based. The higher the risk of significant adverse effects on the environment from a particular forestry activity, the more likely it is that the activity will need a resource consent, and the stricter the controls on that consent will be. The NES-PF specifies the type of consent that is needed and the controls councils can put on the consent.

Three assessment methods

Three environmental risk assessment methods are used to determine the level of risk, including the Erosion Susceptibility Calculator, the Wilding Tree Risk Calculator, and the Fish Spawning Indicator. Most plantation forestry activities in the NES-PF are permitted, providing that foresters meet the specified permitted activity conditions to prevent significant adverse effects on the environment.

If you are intending to harvest, you need to be aware of your responsibilities before conducting any harvesting operations. Harvesting is a permitted activity in a territorial authority jurisdiction if notification conditions are met. Harvesting is a permitted activity in a regional council jurisdiction in any Erosion Susceptibility Calculator green, yellow, or orange zone land but not on land classified in the red zone, where a resource consent will be required, providing that a number of permitted activity conditions are met.

For example, you must comply with what is listed in the bullet points below.

  • Complete a harvest plan which identifies the environmental risks that harvesting activities could have on your particular site. You should then describe how you will carry out operations to comply with the conditions and avoid, remedy or mitigate those environmental effects. Any harvesting activities must be in accordance with that plan.
  • Notify your regional council and territorial authority at least 20 working days, and no more than 60 working days, before beginning harvesting and give details of where you will be harvesting, and the date you plan to start and end the operation. You must provide them with a copy of your harvest plan if they request it. If harvesting is continuing, notice must be given annually. There are also specific notification conditions for salvage operations.
  • Manage sediment from harvesting to ensure that after reasonable mixing it does not result in effects in receiving waters. Examples of these effects are a conspicuous change in colour or clarity, making it unsuitable for consumption by farm animals, or having a significant adverse effect on aquatic life.
  • Minimise ground disturbance by using butt suspension where practicable and stabilising or containing disturbed soil to reduce sediment entering water bodies. Butt suspension is suspending the sawn base of the tree being harvested above the ground or surface of the waterbody while pulling it to a landing.
  • Minimise disturbance of water bodies and the coastal marine area by felling away from these areas where it is safe to do so, fully suspending trees above rivers three or more metres wide, and not operating harvesting machinery within specified setbacks except in certain circumstances.
  • Manage slash and debris by placing slash on stable ground, ensuring slash piles will not collapse and that slash is not deposited into or near a waterbody and removing it if it is.

Other regulated activities

A harvesting operation may involve other plantation forestry activities regulated under the NES-PF. For example, you may need to assess whether your harvesting operation also involves earthworks and river crossings and meets the permitted activity conditions for those activities. If you are carrying out earthworks you will need your harvest plan to be a combined earthworks management and harvest plan. You will also need to assess if your harvesting operation involves ancillary activities and general provisions covered and whether you meet the conditions for being permitted.

These include −

  • Construction, installation, use, maintenance and removal of slash traps
  • Indigenous and non-indigenous vegetation clearance
  • Discharge of sediment and disturbances to wetlands and beds of water bodies
  • Noise and vibration
  • Dust
  • Indigenous bird nesting
  • Fuel storage and refuelling.

If any of the permitted activity conditions related to harvesting operations cannot be met it is likely you will need to obtain a resource consent. The NES-PF specifies the type of consent you will need and also the controls councils can put on the consent.

Guidance material

The Ministry for Primary Industries is developing a suite of guidance material for foresters which will be available before 1 May 2018 to help you understand your responsibilities. This material will include examples of good practice and harvest plan templates. You can look at our NES-PF web page at for more information and for a copy of the regulations. You can also get in touch with us on 0800 88 83 33 or − put NES-PF in the subject line.

Elizabeth Heeg is the manager at the Ministry for Primary Industries with responsibility for forestry regulatory policy and implementation.


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