Fewer trees unless govt changes policies

12 Jun 2008

Major flaws in New Zealand’s land-use policies will become more obvious as the world food crisis grows, says the NZ Forest Owners Association.

Speaking from an international meeting [see footnote] in South Africa, NZFOA president Peter Berg says recent mass deforestation in New Zealand highlights an issue many countries are struggling with.

“Growing competition for land for production of food, fibre, fuel and fodder will drive land use change and it is important that the policies that influence those changes are balanced. That is not the case in New Zealand,” he says.

The New Zealand Government’s climate change policies and regional and district council plans actively discriminate against forestry relative to other land uses, he says. As a result, forests are locked into land which would be better used for food production, while other land which should be in forest remains in sheep and cattle production.

“It is in the interests of all New Zealanders -- environmentally, economically and socially -- that land is used for the purposes for which it is best suited.

“The huge emissions charges levelled at forestry have discouraged investment in tree planting at a time when for many reasons, including climate change mitigation, soil conservation and water quality improvement, tree planting is needed.”

Mr Berg says predicted increases in world sheepmeat prices in the next few years will be a further disincentive for new forest planting unless the government and regional councils are even-handed in their policymaking.

Statistics from the United Nations Food & Agriculture Organisation (FAO) released at the meeting show that plantation forests worldwide now absorb 1.4 billion tonnes of carbon from the atmosphere annually, versus 1.6 billion released by deforestation. Plantations now account for 50 per cent of global forest area.

“While New Zealand’s figures are heavily positive in this respect it is embarrassing to record that our present performance lags behind much of the rest of the world where plantation forestry has been expanding,” Mr Berg says.

“What New Zealand needs now are enlightened policies to get planting underway and new forests into the ground where they are most needed. Without this endeavour New Zealand’s position as a place of clean green environments will be under threat, and our reputation permanently tarnished.”

“This is matter that extends beyond politics and deserves the attention of all New Zealanders,” he says.

Footnote

The meeting was jointly convened by the International Council of Forest and Paper Associations and the UNFAO and focussed on climate change and related sustainability issues. NZFOA chief executive David Rhodes was a keynote speaker.

For more information contact Peter Berg, tel 021 421 291