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New ‘right tree, right place’ rules

The government is moving to strengthen rules for farm-to-forestry conversions by giving councils greater control over the planting of forests, Forestry Minister Peeni Henare has announced.

The proposed change comes as Wairarapa grapples with the conversion of numerous farms to “carbon forestry”.

Henare said the changes are about “getting the right tree in the right place”, ensuring fewer pine forests are planted on farmland and more on less productive land.

He said the government is “empowering local councils”, and therefore communities, to decide which land can be used for plantation and carbon forests through the resource consent process.

“This gets the balance right by giving communities a voice, while not restricting the purchasing of land or the ability for farmers to choose to sell their farms to whomever they want,” Henare said.

Amendments to the National Environmental Standards for Plantation Forestry will see the environmental effects of “permanent pine forests” being managed the same way as plantation forests.

“This means many standards such as ensuring firebreaks, rules planting next to rivers, lakes and wetlands will now be required for any new forestry conversions,” Henare said.

In January, Masterton District Councillor David Holmes said up to 23 more farms could be sold to become permanent carbon forests.

Carterton District Council said it welcomes the opportunity to have more say on farm-to-forestry conversions, given there’s been a “great deal of focus” on them since Cyclone Gabrielle and Cyclone Hale.

“We will consider the full detail behind this announcement as it becomes available.”

Although South Wairarapa District Council [SWDC] said it has not had time to “digest the implications of the latest announcement” SWDC climate change advisor Sky Halford said that, from a climate change perspective, more trees will need to be planted across the nation to meet emissions reduction targets.

“But there needs to be significant thought put into having the right tree in the right place”.

Halford said planting trees cannot be New Zealand’s only policy for emissions reduction, and stronger emissions reduction actions are needed in all sectors.

Masterton District Council said it is reviewing the announcement and its implications.

Greater Wellington Regional Council chair Daran Ponter said the council welcomes a review of the regulations “in an industry that, when managed effectively, can have a significant positive impact on the climate, economy, and receiving environment”.

Ponter said the council looks forward to seeing the detail behind the proposed changes and working with local council partners on implementing actions within its remit.

Minister for Rural Communities and Wairarapa MP Kieran McAnulty said the government has “heard and acted on” concerns, especially from regions such as Tairawhiti [Gisborne], Wairoa, and the Tararua District, about the scale of exotic carbon forestry happening and the potential impact on the environment and rural communities.

“Everyone accepts we need to plant trees. The concern is that blanket planting of productive land is counterproductive.

“This change will assist communities in ensuring that the right type and scale of forests are planted in the right place.”

Henare said if left unchecked, large scale change in land use for exotic carbon forestry has the potential for unintended impacts on the environment, rural communities, and regional economies.

Grace Prior
Grace Prior
Grace Prior is a senior reporter at the Wairarapa Times-Age with a keen interest in environmental issues. Grace is the paper’s health reporter and regularly covers the rural sector, weather, Greater Wellington Regional Council, and coastal stories.

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