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Planting a Billion Trees

How does that relate to the Waikato Region under PC1?

The Government has set a goal to plant one billion trees over 10 years (between 2018 and 2027).

Why plant 1 billion trees?

The short answer is because trees absorb carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere and turn it into wood, which holds carbon for as much as hundreds of years. Trees absorb CO2, protect the soil, improve water quality and create wildlife habitat.

The long answer is because New Zealand has committed to reduce greenhouse gas levels which contribute to climate change. It has three reduction targets – for 2020, 2030 and 2050.

"We have a significant commitment with the Paris 21 [agreement] and the practical and sensible way to make progress on that and generate co-benefits is to plant trees."
(The Paris Agreement aims to limit global temperature increase to 1.5C-2C above pre-industrial levels. Under the agreement, New Zealand's target is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030).

Planting trees doesn't just fight climate change by storing carbon, but also helps stabilise land against erosion.

"Planting trees can reduce runoff of sediment and phosphate runoff. It has less impact on nitrogen, but generally can improve habitats around watercourses and makes a better habitat for biodiversity."

How will we meet the goal of 1B trees?

Initial estimates suggest about 500 million trees will be delivered through current planting rates, so the aim is to increase the rate of planting to meet the Government’s goal.

This will take a combined effort by government, landowners, commercial foresters, conservation groups, regional councils, iwi, communities, and others.

The Government also wants to make sure the right tree is planted in the right landscape, so will be encouraging planting of both permanent trees and forests that can be harvested in the future.

That will mean using a mix of exotic and native tree species on private, public, and Māori-owned land. Species that may be planted include radiata pine, redwood, totara, eucalyptus, Douglas fir and mānuka.

The Government will kick-start additional planting by:

• using Crown land for planting

• entering into joint ventures or leases with landowners (such as farmers) to plant privately owned blocks

• providing incentives for planting, for example, through our grant programmes

• considering the role of innovation in enabling planting

• looking at options to scale up some native regeneration projects.

The government is looking at a range of options to support the one billion trees goal over time, so the programme:

• gets the best out of the land

• maximises the contribution trees make to our emissions reduction targets

• protects the environment

• spreads the jobs and skills as far and wide as possible in the regions

• makes best use of public funds.

An important part of this work is working with regional councils to identify landowners with suitable land who could be interested in afforestation.

Now for the maths:

Half of the billion-tree target – 500 million trees over 10 years - is 50 million trees a year.

That's about the replanting rate by commercial foresters now, so 1 billion trees becomes a game of two halves.

"One billion trees is 100 million trees a year and half of that is replanting. So 50 million a year is business as usual and another 50 million is new planting. That means 50,000ha of new planting a year will get them there."

To put that in context, an estimated 1.7m ha is now in production forest.

What we won't see is commercial foresters jumping in to help get the other 500 million trees in the ground in the next decade.

Land prices are now out of reach of commercial forestry owners – no large companies have got unplanted land in the land bank.

That leaves farmers, Māori landowners, Crown Forestry, local councils and the Public to plant the rest.

So how will this be promoted to landowners?

You have to ask, what are the things that will make a farmer, or owner of unplanted land suitable for afforestation plant it.

One is telling those farmers they are coming into the ETS (emissions trading scheme) and by planting they can grow their own [carbon] offsets so the farm is carbon neutral.

Farm foresters and farmers already have the land, as do iwi, so for them this may look attractive.

What are the challenges to making this happen?

For big commercial forestry companies today's carbon prices are too low to compensate for land prices, and allow them to be active participants in any new planting programme.

If the carbon price was to be lifted to around $200 a tonne [of carbon] this would encourage a lot of planting, but at the current price of $20 a tonne [of carbon] and with the price in the ETS capped at $25 a tonne at the moment, this is not sufficient top-up to pay the current asking prices for land.

There are other challenges ahead.

Māori landowners have typically lacked the capital to invest in large-scale forestry.

Another issue for them is the quite high levels of biodiversity on their land where it's regenerating into native forest because it's not being actively grazed. So whether under the [Resource Management Act] they can actually get rid of the native forest on it and plant other species is questionable.

For their part, hill country sheep and beef farmers fear their properties are being targeted to be turned into forests without them being consulted even though they have freehold title to their land and in many cases have done so for generations.

There is fear about the social impact of creeping forestry dominance on rural communities and schools and the lack of services or even disappearances of some rural communities and schools from the drop in populations with the reduction in farming and the subsequent loss of employment in jobs related to that farming industry.

And then for the Waikato Region there is PC1.

Under the requirements of PC1 in relation to Land Intensification and Nitrogen discharges, there are some huge impediments to the planting of any trees let alone the region’s share of the governments proposed billion trees.

We need to re-iterate the fact that we are mainly talking about the use of private freehold land to achieve the targeted billion trees being planted and therefore we need to get the land owners to agree that this is the best use of their land and that they can make sufficient return on their investment to warrant them planting trees of any species.

With the requirements around land intensification that came into force when the Proposed Plan Change was advertised in October 2016 there is virtually no way that any landowner is going to voluntarily plant trees of any sort due to the fact that they will then be locked into the same land use for that area in perpetuity.

In actual fact what will happen is that the capital value of their land will be severely eroded by the inability to ever change back to a more intensive type of land use without gaining“Non-Complying” resource consent for any increase in their nitrogen reference point.

The chances of this being granted are very low to non-existent so therefore the land is locked into the woodlot use forever and the capital value of the land is destroyed.

So realistically for any great amount of tree planting to take place in the Waikato Region there will need to be some compulsion on the land owners to do so.

Currently there are many people and groups that are debating the use of hill country land for afforestation and there are all sorts of reasons being given for this use but there is one fact that is being largely ignored in this whole debate that is ongoing: THE DEBATERS DON’T OWN THE LAND.

If we (NZ) as a country, and Waikato as a Region, want to put trees on the hill country land that is currently being farmed mostly for sheep and beef, then WE NEED TO TALK TO THE LAND OWNERS and we also need to be prepared to offer a reasonable level of compensation at current market rates for this use of their freehold land.

Many of these private freehold landowners have had this land for generations and have provided good stewardship of the land with a lot of mitigation measures being undertaken to protect the environment so for us to now demand that they give up their freehold land to allow the planting of trees, without offering adequate compensation is at best ludicrous and at the worst a form of eco-terrorism.

Farming and the rural industries associated with farming have always been, and still are, the mainstays of the New Zealand economy and yet we are now seeing a new generation that does not understand the serious consequences that may result from constraints placed on the farming sector to the stage where they go out of business.

If farming becomes unsustainable by way of legislative constraints then the whole economy of the country will crash. Yes it can be said that there are many other things that bring in income such as tourism, IT, etc. but the indisputable fact remains that the bulk of New Zealand’s income is derived from on the land and this will remain so for some time to come.

Yes we realise that we need to protect the environment and in some cases make improvements but we still need to be able to make an income as a country so that we can feed and clothe our population and currently the mainstay of that income is the farming industries.

In summary yes we probably do need to plant a billion trees to comply with our commitments under the climate change agreements but we also need to ensure a vibrant sustainable rural industry to ensure we can feed our population. The government needs to take a holistic view of this situation and not allow regional policies/legislation to interfere with our ability to comply with our climate change commitments.

In line with this the government must bring pressure to bear to ensure that any regional legislation is fit for purpose, unlike PC1 which we believe is not fit for purpose.


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