Thursday, May 19, 2022

Longer felling period to build better forest choices

Extending plantation forestry rotation lengths to 50 years could take pressure off rural communities feeling under siege by the loss of pastoral properties to trees.

Extending plantation forestry rotation lengths to 50 years could take pressure off rural communities feeling under siege by the loss of pastoral properties to trees.

Dryland Carbon forestry company has proposed a 50-year rotation length in its submission on the Government’s discussion paper reviewing regulations around Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) forest plantings.

At present rotations are based on 28 years, and a 40-year rotation is being proposed by government.

Colin Jacobs, general manager for Lewis Tucker & Co and Dryland Carbon fund manager, said the discussion provides an opportunity to better align ETS forestry policy with broader social, economic and environmental aspirations.

He acknowledged policy should be recognising the health of rural communities and creating opportunities for farmers, alongside securing long-term supply for the New Zealand timber industry.

“By engaging a longer rotation, you will align more to the 2050 zero carbon goals, using less land and planting the right land in trees, still getting the carbon sequestration and felled timber benefits of pine,” Jacobs said.

Dryland has about 10,500ha of land in exotic plantation forestry and 4000ha as native bush.

At present carbon credits are allocated over 16 years, a short period for pines that can sequester carbon well beyond that term.

Dryland proposes a 50-year rotation with carbon credits allocated for a period of 26 years, rather than the Government’s proposed 40-year rotation and a 21-year carbon allocation.

Jacobs said the current short allocation period was creating perverse and unintended consequences.

This included targeting and planting productive farmland that supported fast initial tree growth and a concentration of exotic plantings in East Coast and Wairarapa, regions that generate fast early growth.

“In the meantime, there is truly marginal land that could go into trees that is not,” he said.

The longer carbon allocation timeframe of 26 years would provide the incentive for the slower growing marginal land to be planted.

Citing Southland as an example, Dryland has highlighted how despite slower initial growth, trees planted there can and do catch up in later years over a longer rotation.

With Southland land prices half those of Wairarapa, a longer rotation would see more diversified forestry plantings across the country, while moderating the rate of land price gains in Wairarapa-East Coast.

Other areas benefiting from a longer rotation include Marlborough and North Canterbury.

He said such a move would also halve the land area required for the same carbon outcome, something certain to assuage concerns or rural communities.

For example, 10,600ha under a 50-year rotation achieves the same carbon sequestration as 25,000ha under a 28-year rotation.

Dryland has also submitted in support of all permanent forests only being allowed to be native plantings.

Jacobs likens the lengthened rotation period and a natives-only permanent policy as a way to leverage off the significantly greater carbon soaking ability of pines in their early life stages, akin to “keeping your sprinters on the field”.

In the meantime, he said there was a need for greater incentives to plant natives into permanent forestry. 

“This could come either through a subsidy or through the government paying carbon credits of that forest up front, but that does have a risk to it that that forest will not be planted,” he said.

Differences in establishment costs between exotics and natives are significant, with some native forests in tougher country likely to cost over $20,000 a hectare, compared to $4000/ha for pines.

Jacobs said he was confident government would listen to the suggestions, but hoped whatever changes were made, they would all be done at the same time and with minimal red tape involved.

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