Gordon Campbell on the fear of change
Wednesday 1 Nov 2017Re-inventing the Forest Service - One of the litmus tests for the rhetoric from the new government will be the commitment to re-create the NZ Forest Service.
This is largely (but not only) a New Zealand First initiative, and will (presumably) be under the ministerial leadership of Fletcher Tabuteau Shane Jones and head-quartered in Rotorua.
The initiative embodies NZF’s aims for regional development. It will see the Crown actively involved in ensuring the greater domestic use of forestry resources, in adding value to our wood exports, in creating jobs in the regions and in integrating forestry within our responses to climate change.
For obvious reasons, the new Forest Service won’t be the same sort of entity that planted, owned and managed the nation’s forests, including in their recreational and conservation roles – all of which supported the jobs that were once the lifeblood of communities like Kawerau. That horse has since been encouraged to bolt. Cutting rights in much of those forests have been sold on 35 year rollover leases to foreigners who stripped out many of the formerly subsidised milling operations and jobs.
Some 54% of logs cut here are now exported. Some of those foreign firms with cutting rights have been cutting down young trees while others have allegedly been reluctant to offer the work to local processors, in areas like Northland.
Ardern has already said – with respect to irrigation – that she will respect existing commitments. In similar fashion, the new government may struggle to restrict the latitude granted under the existing forestry leases. Some of the land on which cutting rights have been sold have become part of Waitangi Tribunal settlements.
The Maori owners may need to be convinced about the value of foregoing their existing passive pattern of rental returns for the risk involved in adopting a shared (and ultimately more lucrative) form of investment in the likely returns from forestry, over time.
In other words, change will not come easy, or overnight. Arguably though, a more active form of forestry management could see useful gains from (a) a ‘wood first’ policy in say, the construction of government buildings (b) an enhanced role in replanting on government-owned land that would create employment, (c) counter the effects of land erosion evident in many parts of New Zealand (d) enable a greater amount of value-added local processing for export and (e) enable the better integration of forestry with this country’s looming commitments on climate change.
As in so many other areas, the period of laissez fair and market solutions is over. We’re living in interesting times. There will be a lot of media and market resistance from those with a vested interest in the status quo. But having voted for change, we’ll also need the courage to embrace it when we see it.
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