Wake-up call as forests shrink

29 July 2008

Forest owners say figures from the latest forestry census should be a wake-up call for policy makers. These show the plantation forest area in New Zealand decreased by about 12,000 hectares during 2007 – the third consecutive year the area of forest has declined.

At 2000 ha or less in 2007, new forest plantings are the lowest recorded since 1950 – down from 10,600 ha in 2004, 6000 ha in 2005 and 5000 ha in 2006. Meanwhile, 14,000 ha were deforested in 2007, up from 12,900 ha in 2006.

NZ Forest Owners Association president Peter Berg says a shrinking forest estate reflects poor market returns relative to dairying and a policy environment that doesn’t recognise the multiple benefits of forestry to New Zealand, nor the needs of land owners making a long-term investment.

“Forestry has a huge amount to offer New Zealand, environmentally, economically and socially,” he says.

“It can provide cleaner rivers, reduce erosion in the hills, sequester carbon and be a haven for wildlife, but as a society we won’t get those benefits until they can be commercialised by forest owners.”

Mr Berg says many New Zealanders think of forestry in terms of large blocks of a single species in massive plantations.

“That is the history of the industry. In the future we will see forestry integrated into a landscape in which recreation, conservation, crops, livestock farming and trees form a patchwork based on optimal use of land and water,” he says.

“How we get to that point is the big challenge policy makers and politicians should be grappling with in the run up to the General Election. At moment, policies are tending to reinforce or entrench existing land uses in a way that is not attractive to potential forestry investors.”

Mr Berg hopes the forest census figures will act as a policy wake-up call.

“We badly need some cogent government strategies. Not only is it important for environmental reasons, but forestry is also our third biggest export industry and a major regional employer.

“The peak in plantings during the 1990s is now being followed by a sustained trough that will create instability in the future unless planting is encouraged now. The future wood supply for mills and added value processors is being put at risk and those with careers in the industry will be wondering about their prospects.”

The forest census, known officially as the National Exotic Forest Description, is produced by the Ministry of Agriculture & Forestry in partnership with the New Zealand Forest Owners’ Association (NZFOA) and the New Zealand Farm Forestry Association.

For more information, ring Peter Berg, tel 021 421 291