6 Jul 2020

Labour policy would put forestry decisions in council hands

2:38 pm on 6 July 2020

The Labour Party will get tough on forestry conversions if it wins the next election, it says.

Forestry section in Port Underwood, South Island, New Zealand

Photo: 123RF

Announcing the proposal to allow local councils to determine what classes of land can be used for forestry, Labour Party forestry spokesperson Stuart Nash said the change would take place in the first six months of the next term of government.

The move has been supported with reservations by Federated Farmers but strongly opposed by the Forest Owners Association.

"Resource consent would be required for plantation or carbon forests on Land Use Capability Classes 1-5 - often known as elite soils - above a threshold of 50 hectares per farm," Nash said.

Minister of police Stuart Nash.

Labour forestry spokesperson Stuart Nash Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

"While 90 percent of forestry planting for (carbon absorbtion) happens on less productive soils in classes 6-8, we want to ensure all planting happens away from our most valuable soils, 1-5."

The legislation would revise the National Environment Standards for Plantation Forestry.

Federated Farmers Meat & Wool chairperson William Beetham praised the policy.

"We're really pleased there is now acknowledgement there's an issue with large-scale exotic plantings - particularly those grown just for carbon credits - swallowing up land used for food and fibre production," he said.

"The result of this trend is loss of export income, employment and the undermining of rural social cohesion."

Yong farmer in cap stands by new fence r

Federated Farmers Meat & Wool chair William Beetham Photo: RNZ / Philippa Tolley

The conversion of farmland into forestry has repeatedly been accused of undermining thriving rural communities and replacing them with what critics called a "green desert".

This would be even worse with trees grown for carbon credits, not timber, since rural communities - stripped of farm workers - would not get an economic boost from visiting pruning contractors or tree felling gangs either.

Instead, absentee landowners would cash carbon sequestration cheques from afar, and the spread of wealth would stop there, leaving communities without a reliable economic base.

Forest owners have always contested this view, saying forestry actually produced more wealth per hectare than sheep and beef farming.

Moreover, forests were not spreading uncontrollably - there was actually less plantation forest now than there was a generaton ago.

Forest Owners Association president Phil Taylor said Federated Farmers was actually contradicting a long standing policy of allowing landowners such as farmers to make their own decisions on what to do with their own land.

He said its claims about the economics of afforestation were wrong.

"Per hectare, per year, the export returns from forestry are way above the returns from sheep and beef farming," he said.

"Forestry will save many rural communities."

He said there was no need for the law to protect high quality land from forestry - it was already so expensive that foresters would not buy it anyway, and would instead leave it to other uses such as dairy farms.

Federated Farmers' support for the proposal was not wholehearted, Taylor said. Getting resource consent from a council was expensive and cumbersome - and a better way had to be found to solve this problem.

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