Observation on National Environmental Standard for Plantation Forestry

1 September 2017

The National Environmental Standard for Plantation Forestry was launched at the Beehive in August 2017.

Local government’s role has been integral in the whole of the eight-year development process.

Steve Markham, Principal Planner – Environmental Policy for the Tasman District Council.

The NES PF 2017 is the first national environmental regulation of a land-based production sector in New Zealand, under the Resource Management Act (RMA) in the Act’s 26 years existence. 

It represents an answer to the question: what are the nationally appropriate controls for sustainably managing plantation forestry effects and risks, to apply instead of locally-derived controls.  It leads the emerging re-balancing between national and local environmental regulations for land-based resource use activities, where historically, local or catchment rules formed a variable pattern around the regions for a range of reasons. 

The NES PF raises the need for other national rules to complement it across all other land production industries.  The NES PF’s RMA rationale is that it is grounded in effects and risks management but focussed on certain land operations only, and in ways that can adapt to catchment situations. 

I was a regional government manager asking nine years ago of NZFOA and MFE what was the technical case for a set of national plantation forestry rules, even with such a rationale.  There was no clear answer in 2008, despite the Environment Minister Nick Smith’s conviction that there should be an answer. 

Partly in hindsight, but partly my own expectation, was the substantial length of time needed to mature what has now been produced as the NES PF.  This more or less continuous time period showed to all who were most closely involved, the complexity and technical challenges of developing a robust set of national answers. 

Set up in 2009, a stakeholder working group composed of people for all the interested sectors, broadly collaborated between themselves and with the government analysts on the technical answers.  That process allowed the production of the evidence for regulation and efficiency gains from designing and evaluating a set of national rules.  There was remarkable continuity in key sectoral representation over most of the past eight years in advising both MFE and MPI staff on a substantial number of issues. 

The NES PF is a national regulatory instrument focussed on the plantation (including farm) forestry sector’s environmental performance. Many in the sector, as corporates and consultants, will need to review and likely to improve their planning and operational practices in order to work to best effect with its requirements.  That need for some performance improvement was an implicit value strategically foreseen by NZFOA. 

But also, the NES PF is a step up with policy and regulatory staff, in particularly in the regional government sector, who have focussed somewhat on compliance effort under the NES PF rather than the value of performance and efficiency gains in relation to key managing environmental risks. 

The NES PF will place demands on strategic forestry estate management but with far clearer resource management signals to guide this sectoral effort. There are technical issues that will remain with the implementation of the NES PF, because of limitations by government in catchment information management, rather than any performance limitation by the plantation forestry sector.   The NES PF provides a benchmark for all other land production sectors to aspire to in negotiating a national rules framework with government.