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Forest defence bolstered by agreement with government

Forest defence bolstered by agreement with government

The Forest Owners Association says having a biosecurity agreement with the government is a vital part of the forest industry’s defence system.

FOA chief executive David Rhodes and primary industries minister Nathan Guy today signed what is known as a Government-Industry Agreement at Parliament. The agreement defines where responsibilities and costs will fall in the event of an outbreak of a serious forest pest or disease.

“For 50 years we have had a forest health surveillance scheme that is seen by overseas experts as one of the best in the world. But being ‘best’ is not good enough, we need it to be as near to perfect as we can make it,” says Mr Rhodes.

“Forest products are the country’s third biggest export earner, but our forests are highly vulnerable to introduced insect pests and diseases. As are our native forests and the amenity trees in the country’s parks and gardens.

“There are some real nasties out there that could do a huge amount of damage if they became established here. Having healthy forests is also critical for New Zealand meeting its greenhouse gas emission targets.”

During 2015 forest owners will spend more than $1 million on forest health surveillance and even more on biosecurity research.

“While we have this proud history of funding and driving biosecurity in our own forests, the biggest risks probably lie at the country’s borders, with imported goods and the personal belongings of travellers. So, for the last five years we have been integrating our scheme with the biosecurity operations of the Ministry for Primary Industries, identifying gaps and weaknesses and fixing them,” Mr Rhodes says.

“The only missing element has been a formal agreement with government on who will make decisions and fund the response to an exotic pest or disease outbreak. We are pleased to have negotiated such an agreement.

“It provides for joint decision making. Also the funding formula takes into account the industry’s big investment in forest health surveillance and the many social benefits of forestry and trees.”

He says most exotic insect pests are likely to attack a wide range of tree species, both native and exotic. And even if a pest or disease is specific to radiata pine, our main plantation species, the social and environmental benefits of radiata plantings are significant. They are widely used for recreation, shelterbelts, sand dune stabilisation, water catchment protection, erosion control and so on.

Mr Rhodes says the idea of a GIA comes from Australia where government and industry share response decision-making and costs. On this side of the Tasman, the concept has been extended – with forest industry encouragement – to include readiness, on the basis that early detection and preparedness have a huge bearing on whether an exotic pest or disease can be cost-effectively controlled.

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