Carbon forestry’s desirability challenged at meeting

More than 150 people turned out to Mondaynight’s meeting on carbon farming. Speakers includedForest Owners Association president Phil Taylor (left) and National Party forestry spokesman Ian McKelvie (right). PHOTOS: REBECCA RYAN
More than 150 people turned out to Mondaynight’s meeting on carbon farming. Speakers includedForest Owners Association president Phil Taylor (left) and National Party forestry spokesman Ian McKelvie (right). PHOTOS: REBECCA RYAN

"Call it carbon mining."

Addressing the crowd at a public meeting in Weston on Monday night, Five Forks farmer Jane Smith suggested the word "farming" was no longer used in association with carbon forestry.

"The term farming suggests you are looking after a resource sustainably, long term, into perpetuity — and this certainly is not," Mrs Smith said.

"So let’s call it carbon mining."

Two public meetings on carbon forestry have been held in North Otago recently, sparked by concerns about the sale of Hazeldean, a 2500ha farm near Tokarahi, to New Zealand Carbon Farming (NZCF). NZCF plans to plant about 1500ha of Hazeldean in a permanent pine forest to mitigate climate change through carbon credits.

More than 150 people packed into the Weston Hall for the Waitaki District Council-organised meeting on Monday, citing various environmental concerns about the impact of carbon forestry on the Kakanui River, a mistrust of NZCF, and worries that carbon forestry conversions were not subject to the same level of scrutiny as other land use changes.

Port Blakely managing director and Forest Owners Association president Phil Taylor said Waitaki farmers should not miss the opportunity to take advantage of forestry.

"I agree there are places that are inappropriate for forestry, particularly for permanent carbon forestry, [but] I do not subscribe to the ideology that ... the primacy of sheep and beef as rural land use is sacrosanct.

In Waitaki, as at December 31, 2020, there was about 22,000ha of forestry - covering about 3.1% of the district’s total land area.

Port Blakely occupied about 1.24%, growing, harvesting and replanting pine, he said.

"Even if there was a doubling of the forest estate within the Waitaki district, that would equate to somewhere around 5% to 6% of the total land area."

Neither farmers nor foresters would want to see heavy government restrictions on land use, he said.

Since the first public meeting on May 4, the Waitaki District Council has undertaken a survey at Hazeldean with an independent ecologist. It was preparing a submission to Fire and Emergency NZ’s consultation on the Otago Fire Plan, and looking into a district plan change for more carbon forestry controls.

It was lobbying central government for change to the National Environmental Standards for plantation forestry which did not cover carbon forestry, so that activity did not come under the same scrutiny.

Mr Malcolm said regional and district councils had been put in a very tough position by the Government.

North Otago Federated Farmers president Jared Ross said farmers had a big part to play in reducing emissions and many were already farming their way to near carbon neutrality.

"Why is it that we’re looking to chase something like 400,000ha of required plantation forestry in the next 15 years, because that’s what our Climate Commission have calculated as a requirement to meet our emissions targets?"

rebecca.ryan@odt.co.nz

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