Associate Forestry Minister Meka Whaitiri planting trees at Rathkeale College as part of the Matariki Tu Rākau initiative. PHOTO/BECKIE WILSON

BECKIE WILSON
beckie.wilson@age.co.nz

A Wairarapa forestry company has put its hand up to get involved in the Government’s ambitious One Billion Trees programme.

Masterton-based Forest Enterprises, a forest management and investment company, hopes to get on board with the project to help grow its forestry investment.

However, the programme does raise questions for those in the industry around having adequate roading and rail services to take on the increased load of logging, as well as training in the sector.

Forestry Minister Shane Jones announced the tree-planting programme earlier this year as an initiative that would benefit the country’s provinces. He’s also the Regional Development Minister.

The commercial forestry sector had planned to plant half a billion trees over the next decade, he said.

Forest Enterprises chief executive Bert Hughes met Associate Forestry Minister Meka Whaitiri last week to discuss priorities and issues around to the sector’s involvement with the programme.

“It is an exciting time to be in the forestry business. We are encouraged to do all we can to assist the government’s One Billion Trees planting milestone,” Mr Hughes said.

The direct impact of the company’s success in the programme would be the number jobs created, he said.

The company operates forests in Wairarapa, Gisborne and Hawke’s Bay.

He spoke to Mrs Whaitiri about the availability of skilled labour, use of under-utilised land, and the economic and environmental benefits of afforestation.

“One Billion Trees provides employment opportunities among other long-term regional benefits.

“Afforestation is key to meeting the country’s climate change targets, and we believe this is inspiring to the next generation of forestry investors,” Mr Hughes said.

Mrs Whaitiri said the Government was keen to work with landowners, existing forestry owners, councils and iwi in the programme.

“Wairarapa is a place that actually has a lot of forest, and [last Thursday’s] meeting with Forest Enterprises acknowledges that not all tree planting is limited to big incorporations,” she said.

She recognised the pressure the programme would put on the region’s infrastructure.

“If we are going to grow more forests in this area, we would make sure we work with the right folk about infrastructure which is critical in terms of roading and rail.”

“The beauty about the billion trees programme, is the minster responsible for forestry is also the regional economic minister, who also has a billion-dollar fund called the Provincial Growth Fund,” she said.

Southern North Island Wood Council chief executive Erica Kinder said the programme was a good initiative, but there were many questions around labour and infrastructure.

“Labour is the next real issue for the tree programme, and infrastructure is a biggy,” she said.

The Wood Council was working with schools in the region to promote training in the industry so when the time came, a skilled labour force would be ready to assist the industry.