- Date published:
10:41 am, May 18th, 2019 - 98 comments
Categories: climate change, Conservation, Economy, employment, Environment, ETS, farming, farming, global warming, health and safety, nz first, Politics, quality of life, Shane Jones, sustainability, unemployment, workers' rights - Tags:
Forestry is forcing an important tilting point between mitigating climate change and land use, and it’s going to affect the viability of some North Island towns.
The Minister of Forestry Shane Jones made a pre-budget announcement this week that Te Ururakau/Forestry New Zealand will receive $58 million to push the sector to achieve its 1 billion trees promise.
According to Shane Jones, the funding will allow foresters and landowners to have the support they need and will also see the agency focus on the Government’s goal of developing a sustainable, domestic forestry workforce.
Planting trees is great on many fronts, including doing good for the climate. But there’s no turning back from it. Once committed to forestry, the land can never be used for any other purpose. The destruction of farming infrastructure (fences, yards, buildings, roads, etc) over the life cycle of forestry, and the huge cost of re-developing the land into pasture, would mean that little if any hill country would ever be reconverted from plantation forestry back to arable farming.
On top of this the ETS requires this land to be maintained for forest. The result for rural New Zealand hill communities isn’t good. Depopulation, loss of services, and ageing resident remaining populations degrades small towns to near nothing.
This is what the Wairoa Mayor has spoken out against recently, when he saw major cattle farms being sold off to overseas interests for conversion to log growing.
The Wairoa Councillor for Hawkes Bay Regional Council Fenton Wilson spells out the negative societal consequences of growing raw logs instead of arable farming:
The high price of carbon and the ability of foresters to pay above the odds for farmland is a worrying trend for Wairoa. We are just recovering from land use change from pastoral farming to forestry that occurred in the 1990s.”
Mr Wilson said this led to a district-wide population decline.
That happened then, but with a resurgence of land-use change to forestry, we will see population decline challenges over the next few years. This will negatively impact on our town, because the reality is trees planted en masse do not need stock agents, teachers, shearers, trucking firms or services on the main street of Wairoa.
Every hectare that converts to forestry has a direct negative impact on current employment, including the viability of AFFCO if enough livestock leaves the district.”
Some might not be worried about the viability of a plant designed to kill animals, but there are many small rural towns in New Zealand who actually never recovered from the loss of such plants in the 1980s and 1990s, and most of the employees who lost those long-term jobs were Maori.
The path to carbon neutrality will be neither smooth nor easy on New Zealand’s rural economy.
And it is true that as more east coast storms hit the Gisborne-Wairoa area, great blankets of well rooted trees are going to be needed more and more to protect the remaining land.
On the North Island’s East Coast, with steep and broken country long cleared of native forest, crop forestry is however necessary to prevent erosion. This has been spelled out in the Kahutia Accord. This is a Memorandum of Understanding between Ngati Kahungunu Iwi incorporated and Hawkes Bay Regional council. They are aiming to plant millions of trees on 250,000 hectares of such land across Hawkes Bay. It aims to help make Hawkes Bay carbon neutral by 2040, which is a laudable goal.
This accord also enables major planting of native trees in sensitive riparian area, which is also a good thing.
But despite laudable aims, growing raw logs also misses strong productivity increases that could have been made to the New Zealand through this massive and growing change in land use.
The government’s efforts to increase forestry productivity have been through its Crown Research Institute Scion, and focuses on the genomics of timber yield and quality.
There’s no doubt demand for logs as a simple commodity is what the world needs from us. So many of our sawmills have shut down because they simply failed to compete. But as for high quality finishes and products, nope, it’s all about the bulk commodities. We are not a nation of cabinetmakers and high end furniture designers that might use all this wood, apart from a few notable exceptions.
Forestry gangs get paid badly, and always will. Forestry work is also notable for its high rate of deaths and injury, which is taking some time to turn around.
Based on fatality rates per 100,000 workers, forestry in 2018 was the most dangerous form of agricultural work at 56.73, followed by 13.44 for agriculture and 2.38 for construction.
Yes, the world wants our logs, with 44% heading overseas. Seven countries – Australia, China, Japan, South Korea, the United States, Indonesian and India – account for 80% of the value of these exports. Much of that export is in low-value logs that you can see piled up in the ports.
And there’s no doubt this is a great time to invest in growing logs since with prices so high there’s re-planting to do aplenty.
According to the situation and outlook data on exports, forestry remains New Zealand’s fourth largest exporting category.
Don’t get me wrong the One Billion Trees is a bold and inspirational programme on a number of policy levels. According to the Minister’s media release this week there have been:
61 million trees planted since the One Billion Trees Programme was launched.
Crown Forestry entering into 21 commercial joint ventures – many of which will enable Māori to realise the potential of their land – and enable the planting of nearly 11 million trees;
Launching the One Billion Trees Fund and entering into 15 partnerships (approx. $28 million) and approving 36 tree planting grants (approx. $2.4 million);
At least 52 full-time equivalent jobs created with a further 50 trainees, with the potential to grow significantly from here;
Approving nearly $36 million of funding over four years to establish over 13 million trees on more than 21,000 hectares of hill country erosion prone land; and
Launching Matariki Tu Rākau – in partnership with regional communities, enabling the planting of approximately 40,000 trees.
Introducing Ngā Karahipi Uru Rākau – the Forestry Scholarships programme awarded eight scholarships in 2019, beginning a sold investment in the future of our forestry workforce, and
But it’s reasonable to ask where the growth part of the Provincial Growth Fund is when a crop change also changes an existing rural society on balance for the worse.
Growing pine trees en masse may not build the actual society that we want.