Debate over pines for carbon intensifies

Wednesday 27 Apr 2022

(Keith Woodford) Are pine trees the problem or the solution? - Pine-forest regulation proposals are creating lots of heat with big implications for land-use and the landscape.

Right now, there is a fervent debate underway as to where pine trees fit within our future landscape. On one side stand Forestry Minister Stuart Nash and Climate Change Minister James Shaw. They are proposing that existing legislation should be reversed so that pine trees would only be for production forestry and not so- called permanent forests.

Minister Nash has recently come to a position that only native forests should be permanent, and he is supported by many who hold strong environmental values. Dame Anne Salmond is one of the leaders in that camp.

In contrast, Minister Shaw is concerned that if permanent pine forests are allowed, then too much carbon will be stored in this way and urban people will no longer be forced to modify their carbon emitting behaviours. There are some huge ironies there.

On the other side stand iwi groups who own large areas of steep erodible land, often far from ports, for which permanent pine forests linked to carbon farming are by far the best income earning opportunities. These forests are also an excellent solution to the erosion problems.

Alongside these iwi groups, but perhaps not generally as well organised, are many pakeha sheep and beef farmers who also own areas of steep erodible land. If either economics or minimising soil erosion is the goal, then permanent non-harvested pine forests on this class of land are the obvious answer. Somewhat ironically, their industry organisation Beef+Lamb does not seem to support them.

This overview might seem to describe a complex situation. Dig a little deeper and everything gets even more complex and confusing. Who is right and who is wrong?

As always in this world that we now live in, there is both information and misinformation. And some of the fervent believers do not understand when they are on shaky ground.

Both native and exotic forestry lie right at the limit of my former professional knowledge, which focuses primarily on agrifood systems. So, learning about forest ecology has been a journey of discovery. But having an education in agricultural science has meant that I do have some prior knowledge about the disciplines of soils, botany, chemistry and physics that underpin forestry. Having studied economics through to post- graduate level also helps.

As for broader ecology, that too lies at the limits of my knowledge, although I did study some ecology a very long time ago. I also had opportunities a long time ago to learn some more ecology in the field as a Board Member for several years of Westland National Park. I have also been lucky to spend multiple years wandering and working in mountain areas across the world, observing nature in its many forms. All of this has been helpful in trying to put together the forestry jigsaw.

To cut to the chase, New Zealand’s native forest trees are not well suited to colonising steep eroded lands that lost their original forest cover between 100 and 1000 years ago and are now covered in rundown pasture and sometimes scrub, and which provide a home for introduced rodents and possums. Newly planted native forests need lots of tender loving care if they are to survive, combined with deep pockets of money to make it happen. Even then, they establish and grow very slowly, with lots of failures.

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Source: Keith Woodford

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