The much anticipated National Environmental Standards for Plantation Forestry Regulations (NES-PF or Regulations) were notified in the NZ Gazette on 3 August 2017. These Regulations, which come into force on 1 May 2018, establish a new nationwide consenting regime for plantation forestry activities, including:
- Afforestation and replanting
- Pruning and thinning to waste
- River crossings
- Forestry quarrying
- Mechanical land preparation
- Indigenous vegetation clearance and non-indigenous vegetation clearance
- Slash traps
- Discharges, disturbances and diversions
- Noise, vibration, and dust effects
- Indigenous bird nesting
- Fuel storage and refuelling
This new consenting framework will also have significant implications for the development of plans under the Resource Management Act 1991 (RMA) and the Biosecurity Act 1993 (BSA).
The Regulations make these forestry activities permitted, controlled, restricted discretionary or discretionary activities in both regional and district plans. If an activity does not meet the permitted activity rule standards, then it will require resource consent under the RMA.
The Regulations generally prevail over regional and district plans that apply to plantation forestry. Regional and district plan rules cannot be more lenient than the Regulations and district and regional plan rules can only be more stringent than the Regulations in three situations:
- To give effect to the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management 2014 and specified policies in the New Zealand Coastal Policy Statement.
- To recognise and provide for the protection of outstanding natural features and landscapes from inappropriate use and development, or significant natural areas.
- To manage unique and sensitive environments (these environments are further defined in the NES-PF).
The Regulations also have implications for rules in Regional Pest Management Plans prepared under the BSA. If a rule in a Regional Pest Management Plan is inconsistent with the Regulations, then the Regulations will prevail.
The new framework is enabling, and recognises the economic importance of the forestry industry in New Zealand. However, key environmental constraints are also taken into account through relevant setbacks and restrictions on the location of activities within significant natural areas, or outstanding natural features, or landscapes and other sensitive areas. The Regulations also incorporate the erosion susceptibility classification (ESC) and wilding tree risk calculator to determine activity status. The ESC classifies land into zones according to the erosion risk from plantation forestry activities, while the wilding tree risk calculator produces a score for the wilding spread risk from new plantings.
These Regulations introduce a nationally consistent approach to consenting forestry activities which has been sought by many interested stakeholders for some time. The challenge will now be for district and regional councils to implement these regulations, both in the context of existing plans through decisions on resource consent applications and in the development of new plans.
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