Palmerston North’s Turitea Reserve, the city’s main water catchment area, is going to be returned to its native condition.
The city council’s finance and performance committee has recommended harvesting two blocks of pine forest in the reserve and encouraging native vegetation to regenerate.
The return to nature is in line with the reserve management plan.
But it is yet to be seen whether the reserve will be populated with wind turbines as well as native forest.
Mercury, formerly Mighty River Power, holds a resource consent to establish a 60-turbine wind farm in the reserve.
A Mercury spokeswoman said on Tuesday there were no immediate plans to build the Turitea wind farm, nor its other consented wind farm at Puketoi.
“During the resource consent process we worked with the council to ensure that, if Turitea wind farm is built, it will not have a negative impact on the natural environment or water quality within the reserve.”
The consent will lapse in 2021 unless a significant amount of construction has been completed by then.
The council’s pine tree harvest is also designed to protect the environment of the water catchment.
Business development executive Fiona Dredge and water services manager Robert van Bentum said logging the 20-hectare Turitea West block beside the water supply dams was overdue.
The trees were 41 years old and showing increased signs of wind damage.
If left to deteriorate further, more trees were likely to be damaged or to fall, creating a hazard for future harvesting and creating risks for anyone working in the area such as those carrying out pest control work.
Falling trees could loosen the soil, causing slips and erosion, with soil being washed into the dam, harming water quality.
Parts of the area were steep and difficult to access, but the officers said latest harvesting techniques could overcome the challenges.
It would be particularly important to minimise the amount of sediment released into the water during harvest.
There was another stand of 33-hectares at Turitea East, although only two-thirds of the logs there were expected to be of sufficient quality to be economically viable for harvest.
The harvest of the two blocks, including the upgrade of access roads and their re-instatement, would cost just over $210,000.
That is expected to be more than recovered from the sale of logs, with a $279,000 surplus expected after paying the bills.
Harvesting was planned to start in January and be completed before winter.
Encouraging native forest regeneration rather than replanting for commercial forestry was seen as a better way to manage the reserve.
“Commercial forestry is not considered a perfect fit with the water supply activity,” the report said.
“Achieving an economic return is very much secondary to the importance of the water supply activity.”
Staff said there was already a healthy underbrush of native vegetation below the pines, and the area was expected to regenerate quickly.
Any regeneration of pines would be controlled.
Councillors, however, believed some seed sowing or replanting might be needed to ensure the land, especially close to the water’s edge, was quickly recovered and not prone to slipping.
The committee added a caveat that the scope and cost of replanting should be considered.
After the harvest, one last stand will remain in the Turitea West block. It is due to mature in another seven years.
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