Thursday, December 7, 2023

ALTERNATIVE VIEW: One hand plants, the other kills

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Going back over the Budget I was fascinated by the $100 million wilding pine allocation. You can get rid of many trees with that.
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I believed wilding pines were pinus contorta, imported in the 1880s for erosion control and planted until the late1970s.

The Conservation Department website says it’s now any pine, pinus radiata and douglas fir are included as wilding pines.

There are now 1.8m hectares of land covered by wilding pines. They are spreading at 90,000 hectares a year.

DoC then tells us why they are a problem.

When conifer cones mature on a tree they open to release masses of wind-blown seeds. The seeds travel kilometres downwind and need no special conditions to take root and grow.

They modify the natural ecosystems so much that the unique New Zealand landscape is lost and native plants and animals are evicted or die.

They also suck valuable water out of catchments, add big costs to farming and affect tourism and recreation.

Nasty little blighters then but so are pine trees in planted forests. What’s the difference?

It wouldn’t surprise me if the wilding pines that self-seeded since 1990 could absorb far more carbon than Forestry Minister Shane Jones’ billion trees.

We should map the spread and quantify it.

If we then cut those trees down we’re releasing that carbon into the atmosphere, thousands and thousands of tonnes of it. 

After the Budget announcement the Environmental Defence Society welcomed the $100m wilding fund saying it gives us a chance to stop that insidious threat to our outstanding high-country landscapes. 

Then we have Jones’ billion trees that will take over a million hectares. Just half the area now in wilding pines and if we leave wilding pines to self-spread over the next 10 years we’ll have a billion trees at no cost to anyone and on some pretty rough hieracium-covered country. 

So, on one hand you have wilding pines, that can be the same varieties as those being planted on good farmland, getting a $100m subsidy to have them removed. 

On the other you have the Government, spending over $200m so far to encourage planting many of the same varieties of pine trees on farmland, some of it highly productive.  

The cost of North Island farmland suitable for forestry has gone from $6656 a hectare last year to $13,128. That is far above the price you could afford to pay to produce food.

Environment Minister David Parker has introduced legislation that stops predatory offshore enterprises buying New Zealand assets during the covid-19 crisis.

Jones is encouraging overseas investors to buy good farmland and plant it in pine trees. They can’t buy the land to produce food but are encouraged to buy it to take it out of food production. Crazy really.

We read that foreigners intend to harvest the trees. That means nothing.

It’s even crazier when you consider the iconic Matiawa Station in Marlborough. The 1319 hectares is a sheep and cattle breeding enterprise. It produces food.

It’s about to be planted in trees by a company Drylandcarbon One. The company is owned by Air NZ, Contact Energy, Genesis Energy and Z Energy. It was set up to help meet their Emissions Trading Scheme obligations. To do that they take good land out of food production and plant it in trees. The same trees as wilding pines.

Air NZ will have an infinitely lower carbon footprint courtesy of covid-19. The question is will Z Energy sell less petrol and diesel to reduce carbon emissions and will Contact and Genesis stop burning coal and be environmentally responsible? They won’t.

What’s worse is that the companies are 28% foreign-owned so the Overseas Investment Office had to approve the sale despite strong opposition from locals.

Then you have Meridian planting more than a million trees across good farmland to reduce its carbon footprint. It would be better off charging Tiwai Point a fair price for electricity, thereby closing it and reducing the nation’s emissions.

Further, it boasts 100% renewable energy so why is it reducing our capacity for food production by planting trees?

You also have foreigners buying NZ farmland to plant trees and claim carbon then using the money to offset their emissions at home.

It’s ridiculous. 

The far better option is to change people’s behaviour to a low-carbon economy and not reduce our food-producing capacity by planting trees on good farmland.

Taking food-producing land to mitigate carbon while still encouraging the Remuera housewife to drive her large SUV 200 metres to the corner store seems stupid to me.

So, we’re paying $100m to take pine trees off outstanding high-country landscapes that won’t be productive and paying twice that to put them on good, food-producing land with outstanding hill-country landscapes.

Am I missing something?

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