Tree plantings - permanent is never really permanent

Friday 18 Mar 2022

It appears New Zealand has a new Minister of Indigenous Forestry. Minister Nash has perplexed and astounded both farmers and foresters around the country by announcing new “tweaks” to the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) This has come off the back of anti-pine and farming groups attempting to stop whole farms being planted into pine trees, but unfortunately has the potential to only make it worse.

The Minister has announced a “proposal”, which is code for a “foregone conclusion”, to remove all exotic tree species from the “Permanent” category of the ETS. Now at first suggestion, this sounds sensible. Who wants pines that might be there forever? Certainly not the production forestry sector, that’s our job, to harvest and sell logs and timber products. We would all be out of business, and business is booming!

The thing is, with pine trees, permanent is never really permanent. There is always the option to harvest and the fact that there is harvesting occurring right now in our biggest New Zealand owned so-called “Carbon farms” means that these forests were in scant danger of succumbing to the “plant and walk away” slogan of anti-pine groups. Fibre in the future will be far too valuable for that. The only true “plant and walk away” is indigenous trees.

The trouble is with this proposal to omit all exotics, is that it also forgets that we MIGHT remove the opportunity to have a large crop of wood fibre that is viable for harvest and extremely valuable for new future markets, such as biofuels. If we don’t plant the crop to start with, we’ll never know, will we?

It is worst case scenario for the agricultural sector who are currently undergoing the contentious He Waka Eke Noa consultation about how to measure and manage their own farm emissions. How on earth are farmers expected to mitigate, off-set or manage on-farm water quality, erosion, methane, nitrous oxide, carbon dioxide with no exotic tree reserves to provide any income? Or off-set anything in their lifetime?

The problem with large scale indigenous forestry:

1. Indigenous cost AT LEAST ten times as much to plant. Up to $50,000 per ha. Who has that sort of money laying around?
2. There will be no carbon credits gained in the lifetime of the farmer. It could take 50 to 80 years for them to grow enough to measure any credits. If the plants survive at all, due to climate change predictions of increased droughts and floods.
3. Indigenous will never be harvested. No future fiber sources. For anything.
4. This will not help the bottom line for farmer’s profit. Which in turn is not helping them stay on the land.
5. Too late for our climate change goals. You can kiss them goodbye and wait for the new range of carbon taxes that the Government will implement once we have failed. Who pays? The taxpayer of course.

Can’t we have some of both? Why can’t the Government commit to planting all their own crown-owned forest estates in indigenous only forests. Why not make a percentage of all privately owned farms compulsory for indigenous permanent planting, but not all? Why not just set a cap on exotic permanent plantings?

I have a lovely garden, and its hard work to establish and bloody hard work to maintain. I would hate to think we are committing a generation of farmers to becoming native gardeners and making them pay for the sins of their ancestors who removed it in the first place.

Erica Kinder –CEO, Southern North Island Wood Council

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