Thursday, July 7, 2022

Foresters say HWEN too little, too late

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The He Waka Eke Noa (HWEN) initiative has been panned by forestry for its lack of incentives or advice to farmers to advance tree planting sooner rather than later.

President of the New Zealand Institute of Forestry James Treadwell said HWEN is a culmination of a decade of inaction from the agriculture sector and lacks a road map for the realities of climate change.

Treadwell has called on the Government to stop buckling to agricultural sector lobbying and what he described as farmers’ “head in the sand” denial of the issues.

“Where’s the incentive in HWEN for farmers to seek advice or just get on with tree planting? As drafted, the HWEN proposals are no help, they are more of a free pass for agriculture to ignore reality.”

But Treadwell also acknowledged some positives from HWEN. 

He said it identifies forests as offset opportunities within farm systems to provide breathing space while farm systems adapt. 

But he was adamant this was a plan that should have been in place for the past decade.

For sheep and beef operators in particular, much of the heavy lifting in carbon absorption remains reliant upon vegetation sequestration given the lack of technology beyond emerging low methane genetics in sheep to reduce methane at source.

The institute is also challenging the dominance of farm interests on HWEN’s oversight board and control over emissions pricing in the future. Treadwell said the levy at 5-10% of current market values for NZ units of carbon is also too low, indicating a lack of commitment to climate change.

Farm Forestry Association president Graham West agreed it was disappointing HWEN did not contain stronger incentives for tree planting.

“It seems we have been so slow in getting to where we are now and there seems to be a lot of pussyfooting around with agricultural bodies not coming out and saying climate change will hammer farming.”

In an effort to boost its voice the Farm Forestry Association has joined forces with iwi groups and other carbon forest groups including NZ Carbon Farming to form the Climate Forestry Association. 

Iwi concern over the Government’s leaning towards greater native plantings is growing and they are finding an alliance with farm foresters, who are seeing the value in planting exotics for carbon income.

The Government is proposing exotic trees in permanent forests would not be eligible for earning carbon units. 

This is expected to severely curtail iwi’s ability to earn income off land that is often less than ideal for other uses. 

The only other option is to plant that land in plantation forestry, which is often uneconomic due to contour and distance to port.

“It seems we have been so slow in getting to where we are now and there seems to be a lot of pussyfooting around with agricultural bodies not coming out and saying climate change will hammer farming.”

Graham West
Farm Forestry Association

“We do not want to see that option lost, we see permanent forestry and continued cover forestry where small areas are harvested regularly, as opportunities. We have seen lots of farmers happy to grow exotics, and do well off them.”

A raft of forestry regulations are now under review, with the review on permanent exotics running alongside a review on the special forestry test that allowed farmland to be bought by overseas interests for conversion to forestry. 

Under increasing pressure from communities concerned over loss of pastoral land to forestry, the Government is proposing to move the purchase test to the NZ special benefit test, a considerably more arduous test that is applied to farmland in general. 

The Bill to amend the legislation is before Select Committee.

Forest Owners Association president Phil Taylor said the consultation was something of a “Claytons consultation” with the Government set on getting rid of the concession forestry had been getting.

Data from the Overseas Investment Office indicates since 2018 there have been 48 consents granted to May this year for farm to forestry conversions by overseas interests. 

This amounts to a total area of about 34,000ha. 

The bulk of the land falls under the more marginal class 6 or 7 country, with steep contour and poor soil type.

Taylor classified the concern raised as akin to a storm in a teacup when compared to the total land area either in forestry or pastoral land.

But he also took heart from the Government’s emissions reduction plan, which did not disagree with the Climate Change Commission’s recommendation NZ plant 380,000ha of exotics in coming 15 years.

“They are trying to increase the focus on natives. If they get the settings right, it is possible they may get commercial foresters interested in native plantings.”

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