Environmental Effects of Plantation Forestry - The Ngunguru Catchment,

The Ngunguru Catchment, Northland, New Zealand: Case Study

This discussion document compiled by Jenny Baker for ECO developed in response to concerns by local people on the impact of plantation forestry in Northland and whether the operations were meeting New Zealand standards or standards under the international Forest Stewardship Council.  That reflects a wider concern that FSC – certified plantation forests may not be compliant elsewhere in New Zealand, and that considerable environmental damage from siltation of waterways and other impacts.

For many years local people have held concerns over plantation forestry practices in parts of the Ngunguru catchment in Northland, New Zealand. The management of adverse effects from plantation forestry activities is difficult in the area due to a combination of factors including steep country, highly erodible soils, and periodic high rainfall events.

It is not unusual for forestry operations in Northland New Zealand to be located in sensitive catchments, on both the East and West Coasts. “Exotic Forestry covers 14% of the land area in Northland. Based on 2002 and 2007 census data, 2011 sampling, and the recently released Land Cover Database 3, the area in Exotic forest has steadily decreased from 171,000ha to 159,000 ha.“ (Northland Regional Council, State of the Environment Report 2012).

Extensive planting of exotic (non-native) pines in the 1970’s and 1980’s on steep land seemingly gave little consideration as to how the logs were to be harvested and the environmental effects of that part of the rotation in particular.  The Ngunguru Catchment provides an example of a high environmental risk site for forestry operations in a sensitive catchment.

The forests reviewed are certified under the FSC to Hancock Forest Management, New Zealand’s largest manager of plantation forests.  The report identifies possible breaches of FSC criteria including:

  • No evidence of the protection of representative samples of existing ecosystems within the landscape e.g. gully habitats with Totara predominating.

  • Guidelines to control erosion and protect water resources are not comprehensive.

  • Riparian zones and setbacks are absent or inadequate in many places at time of first rotation.

  • Control over the establishment of invasive species and post harvest and pest and weed control plans.

This discussion document is a joint project between the Environment and Conservation Organisations of New Zealand Inc. (ECO) and Wade and Jan Doak of Ngunguru.  There were contributions and assistance from a number of groups and individuals, and useful reviews by others, including people of the East Coast who have engaged with FSC on community and environmental effects of plantation forestry.

ECO has had a long history of engagement with the plantation forestry industry and is a party to the 1991 NZ Forest Accord and some associated agreements.  ECO considered that there was an opportunity to compare a case study of forest management practice with the FSC Principles and Criteria as a guide to the consideration of the implementation of the new FSC Standard and for the government’s standards development process.


Other issues raised in the report include:


  • Increasing awareness of long term biodiversity loss and ecological degradation issues and questions around how these may be addressed through ecologically sustainable approaches to land-use.

  • Work on similar issues in the development of a new National Environmental Standard (NES) for Plantation Forestry by the Ministry for the Environment (MfE) and the Ministry of Primary Industry in collaboration with the forestry industry and other stakeholders. In 2013 this process was suspended, and instead, a process of looking at how else such nationally consistent standards could be achieved was handed to the Ministry of Primary Industry.

  • Certifications in New Zealand of forests that were assessed by Assessors for certification under the Forest Stewardship Council Principles and Criteria, including Ngunguru forest block where managed by the company Hancocks.

  • Ongoing refinement of the Forests Stewardship Council (FSC) guidelines and the September 2013 ratification of the FSC New Zealand Standards. ECO is represented on the NZ Environment Chamber of FSC.

  • The Forest Owners’ Association (FOA) also has guidelines.

ECO welcomes feedback on this discussion paper including any errors or omissions.

Citation:  Baker, Jenny (2014) The Environmental Effects of Plantation Forestry: The Ngunguru Catchment, Northland, New Zealand: A Discussion Document. Wellington, Environment and Conservation Organisations of NZ Inc.  Low res 1.2 megs or  High Res (4.9 megs)


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