PF Olsen & Ernslaw One Probed for Forest Slash After Cyclone Gabrielle

Community groups are pushing for changes to how forests are managed.

Fri 27 Oct 23


New Zealand’s largest independent forest manager and fourth largest forest plantation are under scrutiny after the certification body (Assurance Services International or ASI) responsible for conducting the FSC certification ordered an assessment into PF Olsen and Ernslaw One in the wake of Cyclone Gabrielle.

Wood Central understands the assessment (and not an investigation as previously reported) will centre on forestry slash, which led to widespread destruction in 2018 and again in February of this year.

Forestry slash has been described as “an environmental crisis in the making” and led to the NZ Government publishing “Outrage to Optimism,” pushing for a temporary cessation of large-scale logging, a concerning situation requiring government attention. 

The (former) NZ Government introduced tighter standards to combat forestry slash in the lead-up to the NZ election. The new rules give communities more autonomy over where plantations are established, ensuring that planting does not occur near rivers, lakes and wetlands.

Now, Radio New Zealand (incorrectly) reported that FSC has ordered a Canadian expert to investigate the New Zealand arm of SGS – the certification body responsible for issuing the FSC certificate for Ernslaw One.

According to Manu Caddie, a spokesperson for the community group Mana Taiao Tairāwhiti, both companies were fined by the NZ Environmental Court in the wake of the 2018 slash event.

“Environment court judges have issued quite stern comments in those judgements around those practices (resulting in slash) that the companies have been using, so these issues are ongoing,” Mr Caddie told Radio New Zealand.

Mr Caddie said something was wrong in the auditing system when so much destruction followed the storms.

“Many of the forests, certainly the ones being audited in this visit, are FSC certified, so they’ve been audited by New Zealand-based auditors usually… and something isn’t working because there are these terrible practices which the courts have prosecuted companies around.”

According to Mr Caddie, Mana Taiao Tairāwhiti is pushing ASI and, by extension, FSC to investigate the complete forest audit system.

“I don’t know if they’re going to revoke those certifications; if they did, it would be pretty serious for the companies.”

FSC is one of two globally recognised forest certification systems, with certification used to sell logs on the global market, including China, the destination for 60% of New Zealand’s multi-billion dollar log market.

Revoking certifications would create significant problems for both companies, but Mr Caddie suspects they will “most likely work with them to address those obvious issues.”

“Importantly, they’re going to hopefully be reviewing the practice of the auditors who have been passing these plantations as meeting the requirements and see what’s going on there,” he said.

The assessor will be in New Zealand for “a couple of weeks,” Mr Caddie said, “and would provide valuable insight into what FSC viewed as responsible forest management.”

“There’s an opportunity for residents to appreciate what standards should be met and to know what to do when we suspect they haven’t been met.”

With over 95,000 hectares of forest area under management, Ernslaw One has extensive forest interests in Gisborne, Southern North Island and Otago-Southland. 

Part of the Oregon Group, owned by the Malaysian-based Tiong family, it has a subsidiary company and processing arm, Winstone Pulp International, which undertakes lumber and pulp manufacturing.

In December 2022, it was ordered to pay NZ $225,000 for “serious forestry offending related to a storm event in Uawa/Tolaga Bay in June 2018.”

PF Olsen is responsible for planting more than 40% of New Zealand’s new forest and managing more than 160,000 hectares of New Zealand forests for smallholders.

In September 2020, it was fined NZ $198,000 for “poor harvesting practices that contributed to the devastation caused by forestry waste” in the Paroa Forest, one of the thousands of forests across the country managed by the forest manager.

In total, up to 400,000m3 of slash-washed down hills, clogged rivers, and damaged properties – with 47,000m3 of the woody debris washed up on Uawa Beach after the 2018 floods.

Wood Central understands the damage from Cyclone Gabrielle will run into the billions, with experts estimating 15,000 construction workers will be needed at the peak of the reconstruction to get the job done.

Among the most devasted areas was the Hawkes Bay region, split in two after the Tūtaekurī River bridge was swept away.

At the time, locals said timber and logs from the mill sprawled across roads 300m from the mill, creating significant hazards on local roads.

Earlier this month, Wood Central reported that more than 3.5 million cubic metres of logs had been salvaged since the cyclone, with crews racing against the clock to harvest up to 6,500 hectares of trees before they deteriorate. 


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