Forum findings: No need to be scared

22 September 2010

Forest owners say other land owners should not be afraid to embrace the initiatives proposed by the Land & Water Forum.

“We’ve been there, as acknowledged by Minister Nick Smith’s reference to the development of the NZ Forest Accord, when he released the Forum’s report - A Fresh Start for Freshwater,” says Forest Owners environment committee chair Peter Weir.

“The battles between environmental groups and the forest industry in the 1970s and 1980s have been replaced by a willingness to work together.

“It hasn’t been easy at times. But it’s far better to work with others who have an interest in resource use, biodiversity protection and the environment, than to be slagging it out in the Environment Court.

“Ultimately, all industries need the consent of their community in order to operate. This gives rise to two challenges – finding efficient ways to allow the community to have their say, and developing systems that prove your business is walking the talk.

“It may seem scary, but our experience is that land owners, environmental groups and iwi have a huge amount in common. We all want a strong economy where our children will have well-paid jobs. We all want to be able to swim and fish in our streams, lakes and rivers. We all recognise how important a credible clean-green New Zealand brand is to the marketing of our food, fibre and tourism.”

He says the first collaborative initiative between forest growing interests and conservation and outdoor recreation groups was the New Zealand Forest Accord in 1991.

As part of this, forest owners undertook to protect viable areas of native vegetation on their land and not to clear it when establishing new plantations. Conservation groups, for their part, recognised the importance of plantation forests in providing perpetually renewable fibre and energy that did not involve the depletion of natural forests.

In 2007 these principles were endorsed in a Climate Change Accord, which also stated that policies should be consistent with customary rights and responsibilities of Maori; and with the Treaty of Waitangi.

“Since 1992, despite some ups and downs, we have increasingly collaborated with environmental groups and iwi. We have also embraced the principles of audited self-management,” Mr Weir says.

“Over half of forest area in New Zealand is certified and subject to independent third party audits by the international Forest Stewardship Council. FSC certification requires high levels of environmental stewardship and social responsibility, but in return opens the doors to high-value overseas markets and is very hard for potential critics to argue with.

“The Land & Water Forum sees merit in regional councils encouraging the uptake of good management practices such as our environmental code of practice. Indeed, some councils have endorsed our code, streamlining the process of getting resource consents,” Mr Weir says.

“Now we are the first land use sector to have a National Environmental Standard out of the starting gates … another initiative that could be adapted by pastoral farmers and others.

“It’s far better to apply credible standards that you, as well as the community, have had a hand in developing than to be subject to bureaucratic whim and political interference every time you want to do something on your land.”

For more information, please contact Peter Weir, tel 0274 547 873