Tag Archives: regenerating after forestry

Pine Harvest Time – The Good, the Bad and the Downright Ugly!

Its finally harvest time and the pines are coming down! It’s only been ten months since they first said the harvest would happen, October was the first date, then late November, oh definitely before Christmas… between Christmas and New Year’s the gear will be there, oh sorry the harvester decided to have a holiday. Definitely by March. No, the harvester said he wasn’t going to take his gear down THAT road, pulled out last minute…  Definitely this winter, it’s a flattish block we can get it done over winter; besides they won’t have work elsewhere over winter… Mid July comes and another phone call to the forestry man, ‘a harvester has just been up there yesterday for a look, I have two harvesters who are interested, will get back to you Monday’ later that week (not Monday) the phone rings ‘they start next week’ still doesn’t feel real until the actual harvester calls… FINALLY!!! 

Then it’s all go, the transporter turns up with the harvesting machine, he has to stop and unload it at a bridge down the road, then back on the transporter. Another unload at our cliffs and we hear the machine rattling down the road, then back on to cross the little bridge (council requirements) and off again on our side to avoid low branches. It’s a relief to see the big machine rumble past our house to the large pine paddock. The transporter has to carry on about another 3kms to the end of the road to turn around on our narrow gravel road. That in its self has been a mission as the Honey farm at the end of the road has put padlocked gates across the narrow gravel public road at the only turn area… But a last-minute rush around finds the farmer who grazes it (out loading a stock truck himself) and we get the code for the padlock. 

The harvesting machine rumbles in

The harvesting machine roars into action clearing a skid site, the loader is not due till the next day. But it soon grinds to a halt as on the first day there is a breakdown, then another issue on the second.  The harvester in charge here, tells us this is their back up machine and its due for retirement. The job is hard on the old machine and the following week its busts a track which takes two days to repair. But when the gear is working the boys plow through the trees and logs stack up, along with the mess… 

We are looking at the mud and debris in our poor paddock and contemplating our plan of attack for the cleanup and then restoration.  Some of the neighbours pines were harvested 2 years ago, harvesting was stopped due to the price dropping and it would have cost him to continue having them harvested. Nothing was done to remediate the steep hill paddock; debris still litter it and several large piles of slash are on the flats below. But when we moved here a year ago there was already a grass covering and of course the opportunistic foxglove and thistles, with blackberry clambering over the pine debris. Another year later and the cattle have heavily grazed the hillside periodically, the blackberry has spread quite a bit but the paddock has held a reasonable if somewhat sparse pasture over winter. But the pasture growth is slow here in winter anyway. 

Lucy surveys the destruction…

The farmer who grazes this block tells us that his pines were harvested prior to this lot. He went down the spray and reseed route and says that his ex-pine paddocks have recovered to pasture much better than the block opposite us. Due to the steepness of the hills, I would think that heavy machinery was not used on the hills themselves but just on the flatter areas below, these areas were not planted in pine. You can however see the impact of the machinery on these areas, with much track rutted ground evident even after two years of cattle grazing.  There did appear to be a high presence of clover and lotus in these areas over summer with the untouched areas (the old yards etc.) retaining a mixed pasture of grasses, lotus, clover etc. 

A couple of important factors to note here is that the hills/soils are primarily pumice with a small amount of top soil and there is copious ground water, with many springs evident on the hill sides, resulting in ponding and boggy ground on the flatter areas. Most of the soils are based on sedimentary mudstones and siltstones, but there are ‘outwash’ terraces of Taupo ash along the deep river gorges. It is on one or these terraces that our plantation stands, or stood… 

The springs are starting to fill up the tracks in the mud.

Something that we and our neighbours have observed is that on these pumice slopes the radiata pines develop a small root system which it seems is barely able to support the size of the tree above. We also have a high annual rainfall, being near the Whanganui National Park in the central North Island. The combination of sodden earth and winds means many of these harvest size pines are being lost to uprooting and once one goes on a steep slope it creates a domino effect. Walking through these hill side forests is severely hampered in places by the large trees stacked like pick up sticks. The tracks on our neighbours pine plantation are largely impassable now. He, like us, cannot wait for the blasted trees to go and will not be replanting in radiata. He told us that he feels radiata was highly mis-represented in the 90’s with forecasted returns over inflated. While no one has a crystal ball to see into the future, a basic knowledge of ‘right plant, right place’ should have been applied when recommending forest species for areas.  

Surveying the destruction

Another factor is the remoteness of our location and the excessive cost of the transport alone to get the trees out. And then there’s the size of our plantation, at only 3.5 to 4 hectares, it’s a long way to bring in the transporters with the gear for only a few weeks work. I have heard a logger’s opinion of these small blocks “often they are shitty awkward blocks that someone thought it would be a good idea to plant in the 90’s” “they are not really profitable anymore so most companies won’t touch them unless they are specialised woodlots.”  Another farmer had small areas of mature pines scattered across his farm, often in these ‘awkward’ places like steep ridgelines or gullies. He was of the opinion that it would not be worth it financially to harvest them by the time access to each area was factored in. Surely these issues would have been known when these blocks were planted and yet planted in radiata they were… 

Churned soil as the logs stack up

So here we are with our small radiata pine plantation in a remote location with awkward gorge edges, surveying the carnage left behind. But also, grateful that this crew took the job on, because for us and the land to move forward the pines need to go.  Harvesting trees in this manner can only be called devastating for the land. If trees fell en-masse during a natural event it would make the news, but forestry does it as a matter of course. It might not feel so bad if we knew these trees were going to build or repair homes for New Zealanders, but the reality is most of our resources are being shipped out to other countries. So, we rape and pillage our landscape for other country’s needs, because that’s what it looks like from where we are standing. You might say we get paid for the destruction, but when I look at the small percentage that the land owner gets from it, it is not worth the devastation.  Not only that, but for the small block owner who is not going to continue the ground destroying process by replanting in radiata, the costs start to mount up.  The slash needs to dealt with, possibly stumps removed, the ground needs deep ruts from the machinery filled in or smoothed out. Fences need rebuilding and replanting must be done whether it be pasture, natives or anything else. If you are paying someone to do this then that’s most of your money gone. 

Torrential rain has not helped

For us there is no paying someone else, there is only us and the loan of a neighbours tractor. This is daunting and we have spent many hours contemplating the best way to do it. Getting the logging crew to rake up the debris into piles is a common method. But we see the piles opposite us, full not only of slash but of precious top soil too. We feel the soil has been through enough and we will probably just slog through the paddocks bit by bit. Clear one large area, remove any firewood, burn what’s left, spread the ash, reshape and level where necessary and then reseed. For now, we will most likely just use untreated ‘Bush burn’ seed, its cheap and reasonably fast to establish. This will give us a grazable cover and hopefully prevent too much soil loss in our high rainfall climate.  Other plants can come later as we have the time, beneficial trees being high on that list. We are thankful to the crew though, we asked if they could do their best to spare a couple of mature tulip trees, an oak and our lombardy poplar, which gives us tawaka mushrooms. There was one near miss where a pine fell between two of them, but they are all still standing with only minimal damage, the funny thing is where once they stood out against the backdrop of pines, now they appear small and lost in the flattened paddock. 

It is night as I write this and the wind has picked up, I hear it howling around the house and there is a whooshing in the remaining trees like a stormy sea in the distance. Today one of the crew cut through the middle of the last of the paddocks. I hear a crack and a thump as a pine, who has lost the support of his fellows, succumbs to the wind… 

Starting on the other, smaller paddocks

Well just over a week has passed since I wrote the words above, we thought the main paddock would have been finished last week but tomorrow they will load the last of the logs from there. The morning after I wrote this, we went for a walk to see what had happened with the wind, and found a pine leaning across the creek and against our old man pines, its roots torn from the ground by the wind. Thankfully they got in there and pulled it out, then we cut yet another fence so they could remove some of the old man pines from our pond paddock. These trees are starting to drop limbs and have become a worry since they are now exposed to the full onslaught of the wind, so we thought it better to remove them while we had the chance. There are some native trees planted around them which have survived the harvesting so these can fill the space instead. 

Starting the clean up in the pond paddock where the old man pines stood.

Another event which has happened is the discovery of a powerline running through the pines. No one knew it was there and now it is not there! Snapped in two it was twisted around the top of a pine and sagging low across the valley. The lines company was notified and turns out they thought it had been lifted it out of the trees just months prior while replacing a power pole… Hmm. 

Satellite images show that it had been burning our tree tops, which they would have seen from the helicopter inspections earlier this year. First time we had heard anything of it, but probably explains the power issues the honey farm has been having. I spoke to the linesman who came out to inspect and he said it was a 20,000-volt cable and would have been burning the trees each time it made contact. Scary. A piece of the line now lies tangled around pine debris in our paddock. 

I watched from afar as they cut the pines from the edge our gorge, as each one crashed down the sadness grew. I may not be a fan of radiata pines but they are still trees which have been growing on this land for 25 years. Then in just three weeks the forest has been turned to debris and mud. How long will it take to regenerate?   

It has taken about a day to ‘tidy’ the debris from the old man pines in the corner of the pond paddock, about 1/8 of an acre. That would mean about 20 days’ work to clear a hectare… 3 months to clear the lot… but it is exhausting work, not only because it is highly physical, but also because of the type of work. The fact that it is all about clearing the carnage, the damage that we have chosen to inflict on our land because someone many years ago made a choice which was the wrong one for this landscape. Yes, it will be remediated, yes it will one day be beautiful and healthy. But right now, as you drag yet another branch out of the tangle, you turn around and see more tangles of branches stretching out across the paddock. You see mud and tracks a metre deep, soil both churned and compacted. Barely a blade of grass is left, of the four trees which the harvesters had previously spared only two now stand and one of those has logs stacked against it…