Fu­ture Forests

North & South - - Environment -

Forestry has come a long way since the early days of Euro­pean set­tle­ment. Chop­ping down an­cient na­tive trees was a huge busi­ness – but it was not sus­tain­able. The land­scape felt the brunt.

Fast-for­ward more than 100 years and the for­est in­dus­try is again a big ex­porter, although the pi­o­neer woods­men would never recog­nise it. It is in­fin­itely sus­tain­able – some stands of ra­di­ata pine are into their fifth ro­ta­tion. The trees are re­planted im­me­di­ately af­ter har­vest and grow to ma­tu­rity in less than 30 years.

Dur­ing their growth, the trees are ex­tremely ef­fi­cient at hold­ing the soil to­gether. They fil­ter and clean the streams that flow through the forests. Pines are very good at re­duc­ing at­mo­spheric car­bon; a sin­gle hectare of ma­ture trees will store 900 tonnes of car­bon diox­ide, whereas a re­gen­er­at­ing podocarp for­est will take 40 years to store 300 tonnes. And of course, wooden build­ings will con­tinue to store the car­bon for po­ten­tially cen­turies.

The gov­ern­ment’s bil­lion tree plant­ing aim her­alds a long over­due ex­pan­sion of New Zealand forestry, and not just with pines. Many of these trees are likely to grow on hill coun­try that is mar­ginal for farm­ing.

The for­est in­dus­try wel­comes the chal­lenge. Mech­a­nised har­vest, rather than chain­saws, has be­come a safer har­vest norm. And science, in breed­ing “bet­ter” trees and sort­ing out the down­sides of har­vest­ing, in par­tic­u­lar, is play­ing an in­creas­ing role. For more in­for­ma­tion, see nz­wood.co.nz.

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