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In a recent statement, president Phil Taylor said the 380,000ha of new exotic plantations the commission anticipates will need to be planted between now and 2035 will be the "support act" for the commission’s targets of massive reductions of the overall carbon dioxide emissions from industry and transport.
"This decarbonisation has to be the thrust of meeting New Zealand’s climate change mitigation obligations. Anything else is delaying solving the problem. Pines are great at buying time, but they don’t cut gross emissions themselves," Mr Taylor said.
"The trees the commission has identified are fast growing and so they will sequester carbon at a rapid rate, which the commission acknowledges. In a rotation forest, they maintain that high carbon bank. They also provide an average export return to the landowner for the timber which is above that from farming.
"This modest area of land the commission anticipates being planted should put an end to the alarmist and bogus claims, circulating over the past year, about half of New Zealand’s hill country being swallowed up by blanket forestry. That was never going to happen," he said.
WHAT THEY ARE SAYING
Waitaki Mayor Gary Kircher says the Waitaki District Council has had an informal discussion on the proposed sale of Hazeldean to carbon forestry and agrees with "much of what’s being said by neighbouring farmers and others in the community".
While trees generally were "a great thing", planting great swathes of trees in the wrong place which were then either poorly managed, or not managed at all, and where they were smothering the landscape and taking up all the water supplies, could result in a relatively negative environmental impact. Trying to gain environmental benefit on one hand could mean it was being lost in another way, he said.
Mr Kircher was also concerned about the social impact of such plantations.
"These farms are being bought up, being fully planted up, no-one lives on the farm any more.
"If plantation forests are being farmed commercially, every now and then people are coming in to manage the trees ... but you don’t even get that with these forests planted for carbon credits.
"They are not good if planted in the wrong place, certainly not good for the environment and our communities."
The Government’s National Environmental Standards for Plantation Forestry set out the rules and made things "quite permissive", and that was a challenge, Mr Kircher said.
Given the issues seen with the Livingstone fire last year and what was becoming more evident elsewhere in the country with those types of forests being planted, they needed to be managed "as much as we can", bearing in mind the council could not override what central Government had said in its NES.
Council staff were looking at exactly what the council could — and could not — do as far as Hazeldean was concerned.
"We can only do what’s already written down, we can’t make up the rules. We are limited to what is already there and bound by the NES."
Mr Kircher has called for a community meeting to be held — hopefully within the next month — and he would like representatives from central Government to attend "to explain how their thinking was and, if this is going to be a problem, what they’re going to do about it".
Forestry New Zealand acting deputy director-general Henry Weston said the Ministry for Primary Industries was unable to comment on a particular farm purchase.
How rural land was used was up to the landowner operating in line with what the local authority permitted under the Resource Management Act. The National Environmental Standards for Plantation Forestry also applied to forests planted for harvest. Councils retained the ability to make rules for permanent forests that would not be harvested, Mr Weston said.
The majority of forest land planted since 1989 registered in the Emissions Trading Scheme (89%), and therefore able to claim carbon credits, was on land-use class 6 to 8 land. Classes 6 to 7 had serious limitations for arable production but could be suitable for pasture or forestry, while class 8 was generally unsuitable for anything other than conservation. That meant the majority of landowners claiming carbon credits also had land they used for other purposes, such as farming, he said.
While the Department of Conservation was not aware of any detailed proposal for large-scale conversion of farmland to forestry, exotic plantation forestry in general could affect water yields, Doc operations manager Craig Wilson said.
He noted the Kakanui River and surrounds had important conservation and cultural values, providing a habitat for fish species, many of which were threatened or at risk, including the nationally critical lowland longjaw galaxias, found in both the Kakanui and Kauru Rivers.
Various native bird species also depended on the river and vegetated river margins.
Exotic plantation forestry can reduce water volumes, which could significantly affect the river habitat and longjaw galaxias and other native fish species, Mr Wilson said.
Planting of radiata pine or Douglas fir could also introduce wilding pines into the catchment.
However, as Doc did not have details of the proposal it could not comment on any specific potential adverse effects. It would, however, However, use the Resource Management Act to back conservation values.
Any land use change needed to have good environmental practices applied to it, North Otago Sustainable Land Management chairman Peter Mitchell said.
Diversity was needed within farming communities, so there was some balance for the environment, and there had to be a "even amount of everything".
If there was too much of one thing, mono cultures started to happen, and that was not ideal for the environment, he said.
Otago Regional Council strategy policy and science general manager Gwyneth Elsum said the council’s current partially operative Regional Policy Statement (RPS) had a provision to manage water short catchments that reflected the concerns in the letter from landowners, and that was a provision it would see merit in retaining in the new RPS.
The current partially operative RPS provides direction on the appropriateness of forestry activities in certain locations.
That policy managed land use in dry catchments and required the avoidance of any significant reduction in water yield by controlling any extension of forestry activities within those catchments that would result in a significant reduction in water yield, including cumulative reductions.
"We are currently in the process of undertaking a review of the RPS, with the intent to notify a new RPS in June 2021. It is our intention to continue the same approach and clearly direct regional and district plans to implement such direction," Ms Elsum said.
Further to the direction regarding water short catchments, and following community and stakeholder consultation, the council was considering further direction to control plantation forests in areas of outstanding and highly valued natural features and landscapes where the species being planted were prone to wilding conifer spread. That would be subject to further consultation once the RPS was notified in June.
The regional plan: Water was amended in 2018 to ensure alignment with the National Environment Standards for Plantation Forestry. That makes many aspects of forestry permitted activities.
As part of the review of the water plan, and development of the land and water regional plan, staff would be considering, along with communities, the suitability of land uses within the Kakanui catchment.
The Resource Management Act and the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management 2020 allowed the regional council to set controls on land uses in situations including where such controls would improve water quality and water quantity, and/or provide biodiversity gains. The land and water regional plan provided an opportunity to manage/control land uses where appropriate, she said.