Land use options constrained on East Coast
FORESTRY HAS ITS HANDS TIED WHEN CONSIDERING WHAT TO DO AFTER harvesting plantation forests growing on the most vulnerable hills on the East Coast and elsewhere in New Zealand.
Replacing plantation forests with natives or switching to Mānuka for honey production might sound like good alternatives but strict regulations, contractual obligations and ETS consequences may stand in the way.
According to Peter Weir, President of the Forest Owners Association: “We have some constraints at the moment. We can’t simply walk away from the land and abandon it because that would trigger huge deforestation liabilities under the emissions trading scheme.”
He says there is a harvesting condition in the resource consent obtained from Gisborne District Council that requires forest owners to replant in conifers at least one thousand stems per hectare.
Also, replanting the now Red Zoned land is required under an entirely separate contractual undertaking, dating back to an erosion control forestry scheme devised by the government after Cyclone Bola in 1989. Mr Weir says replanting in the same crop is a condition of early variants of the East Coast Forestry Grants that established many Radiata Pine plantations on the region’s highly erodible land after Bola. Those forests are now among blocks where harvesting has been taking place over the past five years.
Re-planting in native trees including Mānuka is not possible under these early contracts and conversion back to beef grazing would trigger a very large deforestation penalty under the ETS scheme. Also, it would see reduced longterm wood supply for wood processors and job losses in harvesting crews and log haulage. Land values would be affected – a critical point, as Māori are significant land owners on the East Coast.
Mr Weir says: “I can’t see large owners walking away from their investments in land and infrastructure or their long-term commitment to the region and its workers, but investors in small syndicated ownership might take fright. There might be a change in silviculture but Radiata is hard to beat in many situations. Jobs are secure and the future remains bright.”