December 11, 2023

Cyclone aftermath: Lies, damned lies and statistics

Cyclone aftermath: Lies, damned lies and statistics

Dame Anne Salmond has seen some actual research on what is in the forestry ‘slash’ bedevilling Tairāwhiti, and it doesn’t bear out the forestry minister’s claim

See earlier column by Anne Salmond on officials’ failures over slash 

Over the past month or so, the Minister of Forestry Stuart Nash has repeatedly tried to fend off an independent inquiry into forestry slash. In the process, he has made statements that don’t bear close scrutiny.

When questioned by RNZ about the devastation caused by the clear felling of pine plantations on the East Coast, for instance, he said, “My understanding is its 40 percent from harvesting operations and the rest is indigenous.” The media should be fact-checking these claims.

Data from interim scientific analyses of slash deposits in Tairāwhiti supplied to Cabinet ministers in the wake of Cyclone Hale do not bear out the Minister’s claim. On Waikanae beach in Gisborne, for instance, the slash was 70 percent from harvesting operations, with 80 percent at Tolaga Bay.

In the case of the Waimatā river in Gisborne after Cyclone Gabrielle, an ecologist who was helping to clear the slash remarked: “From what I have seen on the Waimatā so far – and I have been cutting it up with a saw – it’s 90+ percent radiata and some willow scattered through it. about 5 percent native, mainly Kanuka. These catchments have very little native left.”

Another local, equally incensed by the minister’s statement, took up a helicopter to photograph the slash along the coastline south of Gisborne. His video shows kilometre after kilometre of pine logs washed out from particular plantations, taking out bridges on the way.

Other photographs show the Hikuwai bridge near Tolaga Bay destroyed by a swathe of pine logs, cutting off Tairāwhiti communities from Gisborne. Forestry slash has also played a major role in the apocalyptic scenes in the Esk Valley, and elsewhere in Hawkes Bay.

Under these tragic circumstances, it seems inexplicable that the Minister of Forestry should try to defend the indefensible, and be able to make misleading statements to that end.

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