The Resource Management Act 1991 (RMA) is the main piece of legislation that sets out how the environment is to be managed. The National Environmental Standards for Plantation Forestry (NES-PF) are the regulations made under this legislation.
The NES-PF came into force on 1 May 2018, and applies to any forest of at least one hectare that has been planted specifically for commercial purposes and is to be harvested. The NES-PF supersedes almost all district council plan provisions, and many of those of regional council plans, except in specific situations where the NES-PF allows councils to apply more stringent rules.
The intent of the regulations is to better protect the environment and to apply consistent environmental standards across the country while improving the productivity of the forestry sector and reducing operational costs. Councils previously managed the environmental effects of forestry activities through regional and district plans.
The NES-PF regulations will be reviewed and updated so always ensure you are using the most up-to-date version. A copy of the NES-PF can be downloaded from the NZ Legislation website. You could also subscribe to Te Uru Rākau’s (Forestry New Zealand) NES-PF update service. Their website has a lot of useful information on the NES-PF.
An essential requirement is a copy of the regulations and its accompanying comprehensive user guide. This is a useful tool to help interpret the rules. For these and other NES-PF documents refer to this web page.
This Manual provides only a brief overview of the regulations and some of the key operational considerations you should be aware of. For specific detail it is important to read the regulations in full.
2.1.1 Forestry activities and the NES-PF
There are separate sets of regulations for eight core forestry activities:
- Afforestation (planting new forest)
- Pruning and thinning to waste
- River crossings
- Forestry quarrying (extraction of rock, sand, or gravel within a plantation forest or for operation of a forest on adjacent land)
- Mechanical land preparation
In addition to the activity specific rules, there are separate regulations for ancillary activities (NES-PF Regulations 83 to 95) and general provisions (NES-PF Regulations 96 to 105) that need to be complied with. These cover activities such as debris traps, indigenous vegetation clearance, riverbed disturbance, sediment discharges, dust, noise and bird nesting etc that can often be of relevance to earthworks or harvesting activities. For example, roading next to a river or through a patch of native bush.
2.1.2 Activities and risk
The status of activities under the NES-PF is underpinned by risk. For all activities it is important to identify risks and figure out how to respond to them. Two of the three primary drafting gates for risks in the NES-PF are covered below: Erosion Susceptibility Classification and the Fish Spawning Indicator. The third – Wilding Tree Risk – is not applicable to road engineering.
Erosion Susceptibility Classification
For some activities like afforestation, replanting and earthworks, the key risk thresholds are set by the erosion susceptibility classification (ESC), which is in turn based on land use capability (LUC) mapping. The criteria to determine LUC include the rock type, topography, climate and the dominant erosion process. The ESC assigns each of the existing LUC units into one of four erosion susceptibility classes:
- Low risk (green zone)
- Moderate risk (yellow zone)
- High risk (orange zone)
- Very high risk (red zone).
Most activities, including earthworks, are permitted in low and moderate risk areas and can be carried out without the need for consent, subject to complying with the permitted activity regulations. Activities in higher erosion risk areas will generally require resource consents.
The ESC-PF for any area of New Zealand can be accessed from the Te Uru Rākau website.
Fish Spawning Indicator
The NES-PF also controls the disturbance of riverbeds during the spawning season for a number of fish species. This process is underpinned by the fish spawning indicator tool which maps rivers that are either known to have, or have a high likelihood of containing, key fish species. The fish spawning indicator maps can be accessed from the Te Uru Rākau website link: www.teururakau.govt.nz/growing-and-harvesting/forestry/national-environmental-standards-for-plantation-forestry/fish-spawning-indicator/.
If you are undertaking earthworks that will disturb a riverbed, such as installing a river crossing, it is important that you check the fish spawning indicator tool to identify if fish are present in the river. If so, check the spawning times and associated rules (NES-PF Regulation 97).
2.1.3 Permitted activities and consents
Permitted activities can occur ‘as of right’ without the need to obtain a resource consent, provided they are undertaken in accordance with permitted activity regulations. Foresters are responsible for determining whether the activity is permitted before beginning work. A pragmatic and recommended step is to contact the council staff member responsible for forestry to clarify if a consent is required, and if they have any standard notification procedures in place. Industry peers are also a good source of information.
Under the NES-PF, some activities require giving notice to regional – and in some cases district – councils before commencement. Earthworks, river crossings and quarrying all have notification requirements. If you do not provide this information, the activity will not meet permitted activity status.
If the activity is not permitted, it requires a consent from the council or councils. Under the NES-PF they generally default to either a controlled or restricted discretionary category. Controlled activity consents will always be granted if they meet the specified matters over which the council can exercise its control. Applications can only be refused if they are not complete. Restricted discretionary consents give council the authority to decline the consent, or grant it subject to conditions, but only on matters to which the regulations have restricted its discretion.
If the forest owner or contractor believes that it will not always be possible to comply with the permitted activity regulations, they can ‘contract out’ of any given regulation by applying for a resource consent for that non-complying subset of the activity. For example, a discharge permit (a specific category of resource consent) might be sought for runoff in big storms if the roading contractor deems it unlikely or impossible to always comply with NES-PF Regulation 26 (sediment). This requires that there be no ‘conspicuous change in colour or visual clarity’ in receiving waters below the activity area.
The assessment of effects on the environment (AEE) in support of a discharge permit might be for runoff in a greater than one in 5 or one in 10-year storm event as it is unlikely that the council will grant a discharge permit for an annual storm.
2.1.4 Management plans
The NES-PF requires a management plan to be prepared for almost all forestry earthworks and quarry activities, and all harvesting. The NES-PF regulations require that some of these will need to be submitted to regional councils or unitary authorities, however councils may specify whether or not they wish to have the management plans submitted.
Management plans need to clearly identify any environmental risks and specify how the activity will be carried out in compliance with the regulations. Management plans are meant to strike the balance between certainty for councils around what needs to be included in the plan, with some operational flexibility for foresters on how this will be carried out. Management plan content is expected to be proportional to the complexity of the operation and risks of the site. The plan should strike a sensible balance between the amount of detail on risk and practice identification and the cost of plan preparation.
When preparing a management plan, it is essential to:
- Demonstrate site knowledge
- Have a process to identify risks
- Explain how risks will be managed.
Creating a management plan is not a ‘tick box’ or ‘cut and paste’ exercise. The specific matters that must be covered in a management plan are covered in Schedules 3 and 4 of the NES-PF. Forestry earthworks and harvesting plan requirements are in Schedule 3 and quarry, erosion and sediment are in Schedule 4. Forest managers must produce management plans.
2.1.5 Forest Practice Guides
A useful tool to assist with developing management plans are the Forest Practice Guides (FPGs). The FPGs were developed by Te Uru Rākau (Forestry New Zealand) and the FOA to describe forestry practices and include guidance on how to manage environmental risks. For example, earthworks have many FPGs including clearing and stripping, bulk earthworks, and placement and compaction. The FPGs are hosted on the NZ Forest Owners Association website.
The FPGs can be referenced in management plans to detail the measures that will be undertaken to manage environmental risks. The FPGs are not compulsory to use, so you can use other tools such as forest company standards and guides.
The FPGs are written to provide enough detail so managers can construct plans to a good standard, and for councils to assess whether the practice has been carried out correctly. Just like any other information written into a management plan, councils will expect to see these practices carried out on the ground. If it is intended that the company will only use parts of a particular FPG, it is important that this is made clear in the management plan.
2.1.6 Consent process
It is advisable to work with the relevant council from the beginning of the process, especially for large or complex projects that require consent. If the works require consent, it is important to start the consent process early, well before the project is due to start, to ensure delays to the project are avoided.
It is important that adequate information is provided with the consent application. If council requests further information on the consent application, it ‘stops the clock’ on the process until the information is provided. This can significantly lengthen the consent processing timeframe. Refer to your council, the Ministry for the Environment website or the quality planning website for specific details on the consent process.
2.1.7 Recommended earthworks construction planning and design within the ESC
The erosion susceptibility classification (ESC) is one of the principle drafting gates to determine the status of an activity. As the risk classification increases, the rules around the activity strengthen. Consider using specialist advice if in-house skills are not adequate especially in orange zone > 25 degrees or in the red zone.
The ESC classifications – green, yellow, orange and red
Green and yellow zone areas are generally characterised by well-developed soils and stable geology. Green zones are often flat and rolling contour, and yellow zones rolling to moderately incised terrain, though in some parts of the country they may encroach into steeper hill country. While steeper areas are typically geologically stable in a green or yellow zone, road and skid design still needs to be managed carefully. If good earthworks techniques are employed green and yellow zones should present a low erosion risk.
Orange zones are characterised by rolling steep to incised terrain and shallow soils. Landslides are typically shallow. The soils become increasingly susceptible to slipping as the hill slope increases. Carrying out earthworks in an orange zone with slopes < 25 degrees, represents a moderate but manageable risk, if good earthworks construction techniques are implemented. Where the slopes are > 25 degrees, the erosion susceptibility is higher and there are limits on the scale of earthworks that are permitted in the NES-PF (refer to Regulation 24 (2) (c)). Resource consent (restricted discretionary) will be required where the permitted activity thresholds will be exceeded. Consent applications will typically need to be supported by engineering design appropriate for the level of risk.
Red zones are characterised by a combination of fragile, highly erodible soils and steep slopes. Carrying out earthworks in a red zone represents a significant risk and should be avoided, where possible. Resource consent (restricted discretionary) will be required. Consent applications will typically need to be supported by engineering design.
Consider engaging specialists in difficult terrain especially if in-house forest planner/engineer’s skills or expertise do not match the anticipated technical and operational challenges.
Forest/geotechnical engineering and ESC
A forest planner/engineer needs to use a geotechnical design that is suitable for the site risk. This requires an understanding of both erosion risk and geotechnical engineering risk. Many situations will require experience-based judgements. In green and some yellow zones, a minimum basic understanding of local geology and soils may be adequate. However, as the terrain becomes more difficult, an engineer’s skills and experience should match the infrastructure challenge. This will require an increasingly complex assessment of the geological condition, including soil type and slope stability, so that the road’s geometric design and construction standards are suitable, and risks are managed at an appropriate level. This may require contracting a geotechnical engineer. There are few forestry geotechnical specialists in New Zealand. Specialists will likely need geotechnical data to assess risk and provide advice. This is challenging and expensive as specialist equipment – like a Cone Penetration Testing rig – may be needed.
Geometric design and ESC
Geometric design is not generally required in green and yellow zones, however a simple road design may be necessary for an isolated section of road or landing located in difficult areas – for example, a road adjacent to a riparian margin. Geometric design is critical in orange zones with slopes > 25 degrees and in red zones to confirm the volume and extent of earthworks to meet NES-PF Regulation 24 (2) (c). It is recommended to use engineering design processes and tools like RoadEng, Civil 3D or similar, to optimise the road alignments.
Operational prescriptions detailing construction specifications should be a requirement for all operations. These must be provided to contractors and operators doing the job. At a minimum they should detail the job’s specifications and standards of work required. For example, they should specify the required cut and fill batter slopes, standards of compaction, and hold points for inspections and testing.
Survey and setting out
In green and yellow zones, the road centreline and landing locations should be flagged. In orange > 25 degrees and in a red zone, the extent of the earthworks should be pegged at regular intervals, typically every 20 m. The top of cuts and the toe of fill slopes should be marked with batter pegs. Roadline salvage boundaries must reflect the extent of the cut and fill. Where necessary, the extent of tree clearance should be marked to ensure enough trees will be removed for construction.