Saturday, December 2, 2023

Iwi stand firm on call for permanent forest rights

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Iwi continue to push back on the entire forest policy-setting process, continuing action through the UN and Treaty of Waitangi Tribunal.
Māori Forestry Association chair Te Kapunga Dewes says iwi intend to hold firm on their push for the right to plant permanent exotic forests, and transition forests are one way to achieve that.
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Te Kapunga Dewes, chair of the National Māori Forestry Association, is not letting iwi interests in permanent and carbon forestry fade away behind sector and central government politics and continues to call both to account.

In August last year he and his group were instrumental in pulling then minister for forestry Stuart Nash into line about the minister’s claims that “canopy collapse” in long-term exotic forests leaves ecological disaster in its wake. 

Nash had originally intended to allow only native forestry plantings to be classified as permanent, claiming exotics had a limited life. This enraged iwi, who have 1.6 million hectares of under-developed land throughout New Zealand, of which 160,000ha is suitable for exotic permanent plantations.

“We proved that canopy collapse was not the case, and managed to get a temporary stay of execution on the concept exotics were not suitable. We continue to work with government to achieve a policy on ETS [the Emissions Trading Scheme] that works for everyone, including farmers and iwi,” Dewes said.

Meantime iwi continue to push back hard on the entire forest policy-setting process, continuing action through the United Nations and Treaty of Waitangi Tribunal to challenge a consultation process they see as lacking in genuine engagement and intent.

The latest government discussion document seeking input on what permanent forests should comprise of now has indigenous forests, transition forests , iwi-owned, and long-lived exotics included in the types consulted on.

“The reality is the only place land will come from that is ETS eligible is from iwi or farmers,” Dewes said.

“All parties agree the price of carbon needs to go up to being about behaviour change. But with the tinkering of the ETS, the carbon price has collapsed, wiping billions off iwi and landowner wealth, while also scaring away future investors.

“Government has decoupled supply from demand, and with it removed the ability to finance carbon, while iwi cannot raise finance on iwi-owned land for planting.”

Dewes notes the belief that permanent exotic trees are less than ideal continues to circulate. But he is frustrated at supporters of indigenous planting who offer no practical means for how those expensive, low-sequestering trees will actually be established.

He calls out the likes of Dame Anne Salmond, who has lambasted exotics and called for native plantings.

“We say show us how that in practical terms will be done. Transition forests are one way to achieve that.”

Transitional exotic-to-indigenous forests have been challenged for their viability by some experts (see Farmers Weekly July 3) but Dewes remains confident they are the most practical pathway.

“That is the crux of iwi intent. We also ultimately want native trees.”

He is backed by work at Scion, with a recently released paper on transitional forestry in Whakarewarewa Forest providing an example of how that can be achieved. 

The report’s authors maintain NZ is well placed to lead the way in demonstrating how to transition existing plantation forestry to indigenous.

Dewes acknowledges the complexities such a model offers, but believes criticisms over future carbon payments and management should not result in it being thrown out.

“For iwi, we do not intend to sell our land, we can’t sell our land, and if it takes longer to get to the point where it supports natives then so be it.”

Having trained as a forester, Dewes appreciates concerns about permanent forest being left unmanaged and neglected.
“For me as a forester and as a Māori, to see that happen would be insulting, just as it would be for a farmer to see their livestock not being looked after properly.” 

He challenges the farm sector to think hard about how many permanent woodlots on farmland right now are actually being managed properly.

“No forest, whatever its purpose, should be left unmanaged.”

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