World endorsement sought for New Zealand plantations

7 Mar 2005

New Zealand is seeking international confirmation of the environmental standards achieved in its radiata pine plantations.

New Zealand Forest Owners Association chief executive Rob McLagan will be attending a meeting in Stockholm this week of the Forest Stewardship Council's (FSC) plantation review committee, at which the role of plantations will be keenly debated.

"Plantations of exotic trees like radiata pine form the basis of the forest industries in southern hemisphere countries like New Zealand, Australia and Chile, but this is not the international norm," he says.

"New Zealand has often established its forests on former poor quality pasture land and erosion-prone hillsides. While we are known in forestry circles world-wide as leaders in sustainable forest management, this message is not necessarily accepted by environmental groups in Europe and North America."

They also need to be made aware that the existence of forest plantations allows New Zealand to provide total protection to indigenous forests on conservation land. These make up 23 per cent of the country's land area. The small area of indigenous forests in commercial hands is harvested on a strictly sustainable basis.

"Getting some international environmental groups to recognise these facts is not easy," says Mr McLagan. "Their thinking is strongly influenced by unsustainable forestry practices in other parts of the world, especially the tropics and parts of Asia.

"Plantations in the tropics are often the end result of the clear felling of indigenous forests, the displacement of indigenous peoples who rely on those forests for subsistence, and a loss of bio-diversity.

"There is a need for New Zealand to continually remind opinion-makers in world markets that forest plantations in New Zealand enhance biodiversity, allow us to protect our indigenous vegetation, and make a big contribution to soil and water conservation.

"Northern hemisphere delegates at the FSC's last plantation review committee meeting in September 2004 were surprised to learn from Maori forestry interests that they wanted to expand areas in plantation forestry in order to maximise the use of their land."

Mr McLagan says the Forest Stewardship Council represents forest industry interests and environmental groups, and inevitably has a strong northern hemisphere focus. However, it is one of the internationally recognised forest certification programmes.

"Upmarket retailers of timber products, including furniture, are the target market for some of New Zealand's top timber products, so we have to be sure that the certification bodies set standards based on good science, not just on the perceptions of northern hemisphere activists."