Environment Waikato has declined an application from Crown Forestry to harvest up to 305 ha of plantation forestry at Waiuku Forest.
The company sought a land use consent to harvest pines over the next 10 years. Two submissions were made from Auckland/Waikato Fish and Game Council and Ngati Te Ata.
The 1127 ha Waiuku Forest was established on sand dunes bordered by the Waikato River to the south and the Tasman Sea to the west. Some of the proposed harvesting was of second rotation trees and no new earthworks were required for roading and the site had no streams or natural areas of surface water, the hearing was told.
The forest was part of a large block of land confiscated from Maori in 1864 following the land wars, but parts were returned to Maori in 1865, including four historical waahi tapu areas in the area of the application. In 1932 the Public Works Department planted marram grass and lupin to reduce sand encroaching onto adjacent farmland and pine planting began in 1935 to further protect the area.
The Te Papawhero block was taken by the Crown for sand dune stabilisation in 1939 and in 1959, the Waiaraponia, Te Kuo and Tangitanginga blocks were taken under the Public Works Act for State Forest. They were formally gazetted as conservation areas in 1990.
The Committee said it accepted that the potential for harvesting related effects on surface erosion or discharges of sediment to surface water under routine plantation forestry management was very low. However several areas of the coastal margin had been subject to coastal erosion, which had reduced the buffer area to very thin strips in places. Pines along the coastal strip should be removed or replaced with shrubs long-term, and the company and relevant parties needed to discuss this.
Felling and extracting mature pine trees had the potential to adversely affect waahi tapu or other traditional values and to disturb, damage or destroy any archaeological sites yet to be discovered, it said.
It said it was very aware of the extreme frustration felt by all parties over consultation issues, but its responsibility was confined to assessing the evidence presented. Trees on the four waahi tapu sites needed attention, and it hoped that Ngati Te Ata and Crown Forestry could work together to ensure very old and diseased trees could be dealt with.
The Committee said appropriate and specific information about the waahi tapu blocks was critical to considering the proposals. The applicant had sought to develop appropriate protocols and management agreements in consultation with Ngati Te Ata, but this had not been successful.
The trees could be harvested under certain provisions, and should ultimately be harvested, it said. However, harvesting needed to be undertaken within a management regime that recognised and provided for matters of significance to Ngati Te Ata. The Committee could not decide on a management regime or impose one on the applicant from the evidence before it.
On the basis of the evidence presented to the hearing, the Hearing Committee said it could not grant the consent in a way which adequately fulfilled several fundamental requirements of the Resource Management Act.