Forest portal opens ... but industry concerns remain

17 June 2016

If you have a question about the environmental and social performance of plantation forestry in New Zealand, it is very likely you will find an informed answer on a new website developed by Scion.

The New Zealand Planted Forests Portal, www.nzplantedforests.org, was launched yesterday at the National Fieldays by associate primary industries minister Jo Goodhew. Funded by the Ministry for Business Innovation & Employment (MBIE) and forest owners, it is designed to be a one-stop information source, particularly for policy makers and regional council regulators.

This information has until now been filed in many – often hard-to-access – locations. In the portal it is structured around an internationally recognised set of indicators of sustainable forestry management. These include biodiversity, productivity, health and vitality, soil and water, carbon and climate, and legal and socio-economic criteria.

Scion forest systems science leader Peter Clinton told the launch function that the forest industry's social licence to operate had been harmed by the lack of readily available, reliable, public information that clearly portrays the industry's sustainability credentials, especially in relation to other land uses.

"In the absence of this information, perceptions and misconceptions about forestry have entered into the regulatory framework – especially in regional council rules under the Resource Management Act – often with little actual scientific or factual justification.

"Neighbours want assurances that forest management practices are sustainable or at least have no specific adverse effects on them and the wider environment. Internationally, trade agreements and markets are increasingly requiring solid information to support green claims and proof that forest products have been sourced legally and ethically."

The new website provides the information that addresses these needs.

Forest Owners Association (FOA) environmental chair Peter Weir said the portal complements the NZ Wood promotional website www.nzwood.co.nz and for those involved in forest harvesting www.safetree.nz

"It greatly improves the industry's transparency," he said. "It will be useful for current and potential investors, the media, regional & local government and other regulators, ENGOs, unions, schools and students."

Mr Weir said forest owners appreciated the government's contribution to the portal, as well as its recent major commitment to the seven year Specialty Woods Research Partnership.

"But I would be remiss if I failed to emphasise the critical need for the government to get its policy settings right with regard to forestry. Forestry and wood processing are the only two existing industries with a realistic potential to add billions of dollars and thousands of jobs to the economy."

He said the government had moved in the right direction, by removing the one for two subsidy on emitters under the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS). As a result the NZ carbon price (NZUs) is now over $17 a tonne and approaching the level at which it should rekindle interest in new planting.

Mr Weir said the FOA – along with many independent commentators – is convinced of the need for livestock agriculture to be eased into the ETS.

"However, this needs to be done at the farm level. The current policy – which the government has put on ice – is for all farm emissions to be paid for by the milk or meat processor. This removes the incentive for individual farmers to reduce their own emissions and would effectively penalise those who do."

He acknowledged it will be challenge for MPI to design a cost-effective scheme for farmers but, if done properly, farm woodlots could make a farm carbon neutral, with no need for the farm owner to buy carbon offsets in the ETS.

Setting aside industry concerns about the ETS, Mr Weir said government support for a national environmental standard for forestry was "hugely appreciated".

"MPI officials have advanced it and ministers Jo Goodhew and Nick Smith have championed it with their Cabinet colleagues. Without minister Goodhew's input, five years of policy work by MfE, in collaboration with forest growers, Fish & Game and Forest & Bird would have been lost."

He said further help is needed from the ministers to unblock a much needed revision of the NZ building standard, which is inhibiting the uptake of innovative timber design.
"Cross laminated timber and laminated veneer lumber in medium-rise residential dwellings have the potential to play a much bigger part of the solution to Auckland's current housing shortage, but their use is stymied by out-of-date building standards," said Mr Weir.

He concluded by reiterating the forest owners' call for government to follow other OEDC countries, and the Rotorua District Council, in adopting a "Wood-First" construction policy.

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For more information:

Peter Weir, chair, FOA environment committee, Tel 027 454 7873
Peter Clinton, Scion forest systems science leader, Tel 027 497 3109
Don Carson, FOA communications manager, Tel 027 537 9488