Positive not punitive will result in more trees

31 Jan 2008

If New Zealand wants more forests to be planted it must allow those who plants trees to benefit from the environmental services they provide to society.

NZ Forest Owners Association president Peter Berg said the State of the Environment report highlighted the increases in carbon and nitrogen emissions arising from the intensification of land use, along with the positive attributes of plantation forestry.

“However the area in plantation forestry is declining. As the report notes, this has implications for New Zealand’s greenhouse gas profile and may also affect flood management, soil nutrients and health, biodiversity and hill country erosion.

“None of this is news – it was covered in the Growing For Good report issued by the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment in 2004. The big issue is what government and regional councils plan to do with this information.

“Will they continue to use big sticks to try and force land owners to retain existing trees on inappropriate sites? If they do, land owners will be very reluctant to plant new forests for fear that their future land management options will be taken away from them by regulators or parliament.”

Mr Berg says the report highlights how the Resource Management Act has been used very successfully to reduce pollution from factories and farm effluent ponds, because local bodies have applied the polluter-pays principle.

“In contrast, when it comes to land management – an area which environment secretary Hugh Logan identified, along with transport, as one of two major problem areas – excess carbon and nitrogen emissions have largely been dealt with by regulation.

“Forest owners have been forced to keep trees on inappropriate land to offset the carbon emissions of others. In the Taupo catchment, forest owners are locked into their existing land uses in perpetuity regardless of the economics of doing so.”

He says punitive policies like these lead to perverse outcomes, like the mass deforestation which has occurred in the last two years.

“Planted forests of both exotic and native trees have a huge potential to help improve the New Zealand environment, but they mustn’t be treated like public property. Otherwise no-one will plant trees.

“If emission rights were allocated fairly to all land users, we would see livestock, cropping and forestry gradually shifting to sites to which they were best suited. There would be more of a patchwork of land uses in the landscape, based on economics and good environmental practice.

“At present, many land-uses are the result of history and no longer make sense. Like pine forests on good dairying land and sheep grazing on erosion-prone hill country.”

Mr Berg says the NZ Forest Owners Association takes environmental issues seriously.

In conjunction with environmental groups it recently updated the 1990 Forest Accord to include Climate Change. It has also updated its Code of Environmental Practice, and has made compliance compulsory for members.

As well as applying the polluter-pays principles of the RMA to land use, Mr Berg says the forest industry is very supportive of national environmental policies based on objective standards.

“Land-use issues need to be dealt with consistently across the country, so that land owners everywhere know what their future responsibilities will be. This will provide certainty and enable land owners to adapt their management so that it meets society’s expectations.”

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For more information, please ring Peter Berg
Tel 09 309 5049 or 021 421 291