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Forests Pivotal For Building A More Resilient Environment

Forest owners say a new report is a promising step towards addressing complex land use management issues in New Zealand but needs to recognise the value of forestry in building a more resilient environment.

The report, Going with the Grain: Changing land uses to fit a changing landscape, was released today by the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment (PCE). It acknowledges the longstanding complexities of land use management in New Zealand and the need to shift to a more granular, mosaic approach in the face of a changing climate.

New Zealand Forest Owners Association chief executive, Dr Elizabeth Heeg, says forest owners are supporters of an integrated land use conversation but says forestry must first be recognised as a valued part of that land use mosaic.

“Unfortunately the report paints forests as part of the land use problem when the opposite is true,” she says. “It is time for the government to acknowledge the pivotal role New Zealand’s production forests have in creating a resilient landscape and for the sector to be supported in driving change.”

New Zealand’s 1.75 million hectare production forest estate currently sequesters more than half the nation’s carbon dioxide emissions each year and is arguably one of the most effective tools at the nation’s disposal to mitigate the effects of climate change.

Forest owners are concerned that the report’s suggestions to alter the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) and phase forestry out of the ETS, could jeopardise meeting our 2050 climate change target.

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Elizabeth says confidence in the ETS is vital for forest owners to continue to invest.

“The addition of a biogenic methane-based ETS could disincentivise emissions reductions further, affecting supply and demand at a time where we need a greater commitment to offsetting emissions.

“A new scheme may add to the volatility of that market, not to mention the unnecessary complexity and overheads.”

Elizabeth says more trees are needed to build New Zealand’s resilience to climate change, not less as the report suggests.

“The area of new planting has not exceeded more than 70,000 hectares per year in more than three years,” she says. “Forestry would need to multiply that planting area by at least 11, according to a 2022 report from the PCE, to make inroads to reaching that 2050 emissions target.

“It makes no sense for the report to suggest that reducing production forestry is a positive way forward.”

Elizabeth says the report’s view that forestry offers fewer benefits and removes land use options from future generations is fuelling misconceptions about the sector.

“Production forests are four times more productive than sheep and beef farming per hectare. They generate significant economic activity for rural communities, including employment for more than 40,000 New Zealanders.”

They’re also crucial for supporting our ecosystems, she says.

“Pine forests provide a valuable, safe habitat for many of our indigenous species. The strong pest management regimes of these forests outweighs that of native forests and they are increasingly used as an environment for re-establishing at risk or declining species such as the Kiwi.

“They help in stabilising erodible land and are home to more than 24,000 kilometres of streams that provide high-quality water to downstream users," Elizabeth says.

“It’s clear that production forests offer just as many, if not more, ecosystem benefits as other land uses do.”

Forest owners are keen to be part of the land use solution and will continue to engage with communities to improve climate, biodiversity and water management outcomes as part of their forest management practices.

However, proposed land use solutions and policies must be evidence-based, cost-effective and not value one land use over another.

“Like other rural sectors, forestry holds an important role in maintaining a healthy mosaic of land use,” Elizabeth says. “Forest owners want to help build climate and environmental resilience, but need the support of the community and recognition of the sector's value, to do so.”

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