Let's rethink commercial forestry

According to an article in a local paper this week from Martin Williams, a barrister specialising in local government and resource management law, the June floods that swept a "tsunami" of slash into Tolaga Bay have forced a reset of our views on commercial forestry practices.

Once seen as the solution to management of steep erodible land cleared of native forests by previous generations for farming, this event appeared to raise more questions for forestry than there are known available solutions, or tree species we can sensibly plant, to address them.

With the frequency and intensity of storm events increasing through climate change, it would seem that leaving large areas of steep back country land bare between crop rotations, apart from the residual slash which is uneconomic to remove, is not going to work anymore.

While actually quite distinct management issues, slash and sediment understandably combine in the public's perception, just as they did within the affected rivers and catchments around Tolaga Bay.

The forestry industry will quickly lose its social licence, and the overall benefits of forestry in minimising erosion over the full production cycle will soon be forgotten.

Previous commentators to this paper have rightly pointed to what can be achieved through forestry in terms of improved climate change resilience and mitigation, as well as biodiversity. For its part, also in June of this year, the regional council resolved to borrow some $30 million over 10 years to invest in the so-called "cloak of trees", on a target 100,000 hectares of the estimated more than 200,000ha of vulnerable steep land in our region.

A report received by the council in November 2017 as a backgrounder to that proposal revealed that the finance needed to reforest all erosion prone lands in Hawke's Bay has eight zeros. The report advises that the majority of such afforestation needs to comprise permanent forest with no intent, or permission, to harvest.

The most economically viable method proposed in the report to overcome the obvious challenges inherent in that advice is said to involve aggregation of carbon credits from participating farmers, to enable single point large volume sales to large scale carbon buyers, with indigenous species planted under a nursery crop of suitable widely spaced exotic hardwoods.

This approach would seem to dovetail with calls by some for the practice of fast-growing pinus radiata commercial forestry involving clear felling and leaving the erosion prone land vulnerable, to cease.

More realistic in my view as the so-called "wall of wood" reaches maturity, would be integration of native species with more rapidly growing exotics for the next forestry cycle, matching tree species to the land resource as Ewan McGregor proposed in his opinion piece last November. More >>.

Source: nzherald.co.nz

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