Satellite images of a former sheep station on the East Coast show a stark difference from surrounding properties after it was sprayed with the intention of planting pine forest to cash in on the government’s Emissions Trading Scheme.

The company that bought the farm for $13 million last year is partly owned by Māori Carbon Collective. The company is among a group of companies started under the umbrella company the Māori Carbon Foundation which was launched last year by Sir Mark Solomon, Hone Harawira, Michelle Boag, Murray McCully, Jevan Goulter and Maru Nihoniho. The directors are Sir Mark, Harawira and Nihoniho and one shareholder is listed, John Muru Walters. 

The Māori Carbon Foundation said at the time of its launch that its aim was to plant on 150,000ha as an initial target, which would see 150 million trees planted. The company covers the cost of planting, maintaining and insuring the forest and landowners would receive an even share of profits after seven years when the start-up cost is covered. The intention was to trade the carbon credits generated by the trees.

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Horehore Station is 1600 hectares wedged between Waingakia Stream and the Mata River in the hill country north-west of Tokomaru Bay and the waterways end up in the Waiapu River, the main river of Ngāti Pōrou.

The station has previously been owned by a succession of farmers but was bought by Gisborne Carbon Forestry Ltd in August last year for $13 million.

Gisborne Carbon Forestry Ltd is 20 percent owned by Māori Carbon Trustee Ltd and 80 percent owned by Jake Lockwood, Luke Lockwood, Stephen Lockwood and Lewis Grant. The company directors are Hone Harawira, Jevan Goulter, Jake Lockwood and Stephen Lockwood. Property records show the property has a 30-year lease commencing in August 30, 2022, but doesn’t list the name of the leasee.

Satellite images of the property from early December last year (see below) show what appear to be brown spray lines along ridges, with subsequent images showing the land along those lines browned off. By February 7, a large area of the property had browned off and in some areas of the farm it appears significant erosion had taken place. Tracks appear to have been buried, significant slips have opened up in some areas and contours in the stream bed have changed substantially near the confluence of the Mata River and Waingakia Stream, which have been elevated by several metres.

Newsroom cannot confirm the extent of the damage or whether it has been exacerbated by the property being sprayed. However, one expert told Newsroom that, based on the satellite images, it appears there is major erosion of the top 15cm of soil across the property along with the more obvious damage. Another expert wasn’t sure about the extent of the damage and wasn’t prepared to make a judgment until seeing on-the-ground images, but noted the stark difference in appearance with other properties in the area.

Aerial maps from Land Information NZ show the property is conspicuously different from surrounding properties in the amount of damage that happened well before Cyclone Gabrielle. The waterways also change colour after Cyclone Gabrielle and silting is visible in satellite images. 

Sir Mark Solomon was asked about the damage to the land but didn’t know where Horehore Station was.  

“I don’t even know where it is. That’s the first I’ve heard of it. I don’t know much about it at all. I know Māori Carbon Foundation is a shareholder, but we’re not on the ground.”

Attempts were made by Newsroom to contact Hone Harawira but he did not respond before publication.

The previous owner, John Hindrup, told the New York Times last year that he bought the property in 2013 for $1.8 million, and sold it for $13 million in August last year.

“If you told me this two years ago, I wouldn’t have believed you,” Hindrup, 67, said of the jump in value in the wake of the Emissions Trading Scheme.

The Emissions Trading Scheme was set up by the government to create a market and trading platform for carbon credits – a monetary value assigned to activities that reduce carbon such as forestry – to offset greenhouse gases and mitigate climate change. But the scheme incentivises pine forestry over natives, creating other environmental risks from forestry harvesting. In many areas of the East Coast, flooding events like Cyclone Gabrielle have been made worse by debris from forestry harvesting – called slash – being swept down rivers and damaging infrastructure like bridges and increasing other flood damage. Many of the pine forests now being harvested were planted after Cyclone Bola in 1988 after the government pushed for erosion-prone land to be planted in pine.

A satellite image of Horehore Station between the Mata River and the Waingakia Stream on the East Coast taken on November 3, 2022. Image: ESA Sentinel 2
Another image of Horehore Station taken on December 3, 2022 that shows brown spray lines and the start of erosion of top soil. Image: ESA Sentinel 2
Another image of Horehore Station taken on December 28, 2022 that shows the hills browning off along the spray lines. Image: ESA Sentinel 2
An image taken of Horehore Station on January 20, 2023. Image: ESA Sentinel 2
Image taken on February 19, 2023, shortly after Cyclone Gabrielle. The rivers are visibly swollen and silted.  Image: ESA Sentinel 2
A wider image showing Horehore Station in relation to the Waiapu River flowing to the top right. Image: Toitu Te Whenua LINZ

Aaron Smale is Newsroom's Māori Issues Editor. Twitter: @ikon_media

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