Saturday, April 20, 2024

Mayors seek support on forest report

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The call by two North Island east coast councils for funds to study the impact of forestry on rural communities has been labelled narrow and predefined by the forestry industry. The mayors of Wairoa District Council, Craig Little, and Tararua District Council, Tracey Collis, have sent a letter to other district mayors around the country seeking $5000 each as a contribution to work collaboratively on a project examining issues connected to increased forestry planting.
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The call by two North Island east coast councils for funds to study the impact of forestry on rural communities has been labelled narrow and predefined by the forestry industry.

The mayors of Wairoa District Council, Craig Little, and Tararua District Council, Tracey Collis, have sent a letter to other district mayors around the country seeking $5000 each as a contribution to work collaboratively on a project examining issues connected to increased forestry planting.

The key points the mayors want the study to examine include looking at government promises made on capping forestry and the land type that can be planted in trees.

It also seeks answers on what the letter terms the “negative impact” of forestry plantations on rural communities and “short-sighted” vision around planting land in trees in absence of a long-term plan.

But Farm Forestry Association president Graham West says the terms of engagement for the project appear to set it up to find few, if any, positive outcomes from forestry.

“They have gone as far as to look at forestry’s impact upon the four wellbeings of social, cultural, economic and environmental aspects,” West said. 

“The point we would be trying to make is let’s instead look at land use and rural communities in general, forestry could be part of that solution.”

West says the Farm Forestry Association shares the mayors’ concerns about large investment groups buying up land for wholesale planting of trees solely for carbon sequestration.

“If farmers don’t step up and plant, then they will lose this land entirely to trees. But the Government cannot stop the planting and still meet its carbon reduction obligations. They face a conundrum,” he said.

The Climate Change Commission (CCC) has confirmed New Zealand needs to plant 380,000ha of exotic and 300,000ha of native trees in the next 15 years if it is to come close to meeting its Paris Accord commitments.

Little says he hoped to get the forestry sector on board with the review and was disappointed with the response it had received from the sector.

“The forestry sector is taking this the wrong way, this could be helpful to them too,” Little said.

He was quite confident they would raise funds from 10 councils nationally, while acknowledging not all councils were wanting to support a report that may find negative outcomes for the sector.

“Some quite like forestry, like Rotorua and Taupō. But we have four or five councils that have put money down on this,” he said.

Little acknowledged the forestry sector was “pretty grumpy” with some district councils at present, with some raising their rating levels to adjust for roading improvements needed to sustain the industry.

“We have always said to forestry, come and commit to Wairoa, but the commitment has not been there (in terms of processing logs into timber). I think people would be happier about forestry if more wood was processed in their region,” he said.

In the meantime, the Environmental Defence Society (EDS) is also calling for a reset of the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) due to the effect of the $60 a tonne price now set on carbon value.

“Vast swathes of the countryside are being bought up by foreign companies for conversion to large-scale pine plantations, principally driven by the increasing price of carbon,” EDS chief executive Gary Taylor said.

“It is important to sequester carbon, but it is also important to continue sustainable farming and food production on suitable land.” 

He is calling for more incentives to retain and build native forest areas with a premium ETS payment allowable on such forests.

But Forest Owners Association president Phil Taylor challenged the claim about “vast swathes” of land lost to carbon forestry.

He estimated if half the 380,000ha the CCC sought for exotic plantings were to come from hill country pasture, this would amount to only 41ha put into trees per farm nationally.

He also described the district council mayors as “off beam” with their understanding of forestry economics.

“The tone of the letter suggests the councils have already made their minds up about forestry. But we welcome any opportunity to work with councils to present a balanced perspective,” Taylor said.

He questioned whether it was a council’s role to “pick winners” in land use and possibly deny farmer ratepayers the opportunity to participate in carbon gains.

Ex-mayor of Hastings District Council Lawrence Yule and colleague Malcolm Alexander are heading up the forestry study through their consulting firm Yule Alexander.

Little says he was hopeful some results would be available by year’s end.

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