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Council discusses concerns about rural burn-offs

December 19th, 2009
(Council press release)

Tasman District Council met rural industry representatives recently to discuss concerns about burn-offs. A combination of poor burning practices, difficult weather and orchard replacement programmes earlier in 2009 led to smoke nuisance throughout the district and a large number of complaints.

The Council's website reports that the meeting discussed how smoke from rural fires affects the environment, people's health, amenities and well-being, as well as how it damages Tasman's image as a clean and healthy place to live.

As reported by The Guardian last week, Motueka High School students gave a presentation on the results of a survey they undertook of Motueka residents, which showed a high level of concern about the smoke.

Those present at the meeting acknowledged the Council's Good Practice Guide, which outlines ways to reduce cross-boundary effects. Advice in the Guide includes:

 •  Check wind forecasts (strength and direction) during the intended day of burning.
 •  Don't light fires in wind speeds greater than 15 kph.
 •  During winter, burn after 10am and before 3pm and only use fuel that will be completely burnt by 5pm. Do not burn in calm conditions that encourage the development of temperature inversions. The smoke will hang about and not rise and dissipate.
 •  During summer, burn in the coolest part of day, and not in windy conditions.
 •  Ensure wind will not blow smoke toward neighbouring houses. Discuss your plans for burning with your neighbour to reduce potential conflicts.
 •  Don't burn if wet weather is likely to cause smoke nuisances.
 •  Don't burn if the material is too wet or too green to burn well.

Discharging smoke and ash from fires is allowed in Tasman subject to conditions that limit adverse effects. A separate fire permit is also required from the Rural Fire Authority. Waimea Principal Fire Officer Neil Eder said the authority has no legal power regarding smoke emissions, but fire permits state: "Be considerate with smoke emissions" and applicants are advised that Council will act if complaints are received.

Alternatives to burning, such as mulching and composting, were found too risky for spreading disease in orchards, and can create nuisance through noise and other emissions. Using orchard wood for firewood was trialled by a local community group, but this was complicated by the presence of wire used to support the trees, and by left-over tree stumps.

The recovery of energy from wood was also considered and the Council is investigating this option for the management of tree wastes from its river works programme, which involves removal of crack willow trees from along riverbanks. In some locations, Council will also bury tree wastes so they decompose naturally.

Other measures considered by industry representatives include producing bio-char and realising the economic value of the carbon content of the trees. These solutions are still developing.

Councillor Michael Higgins summarised, 'Tasman District Council acknowledges fire as an important land management tool, however we will be working closely with industry to make sure people adopt the best practice possible to reduce the adverse effects from smoke. Council will be taking a tougher line when dealing with poor burning practices."

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