A conversation that NZ needs to have.
Recent comments by Peter Weir of the Forest Owners Association highlight a number of incredibly important points which Fifty Shades of Green would like to reinforce and highlight.
Peter is entirely correct when saying that the Forest Industry in New Zealand would barely exist if it were not for foreign owners. Of the industry total, over 70 percent of forests are owned by foreign companies and these typically operate on a massive scale.
Family businesses and SME’s in the Forest sector are largely restricted to Forest Management, forest services such as managing planting and pruning gangs and harvest management or logging truck drivers. None of these entities have much of a chance to buy a stake in the land they work, many of them operate on tight margins and work huge hours in jobs that require immense and admirable fortitude.
The reason forests are not typically owned by families (unless part of farm forestry) historically is because very few people can afford to wait 25 years between pay cheques. This will no doubt change with the carbon price now creating a type of climate welfare where those polluting can now essentially buy a get out of jail free card from foresters who have credits to sell. Foresters quite rightly see dollar signs in every tonne of CO2 being belched by industry.
So Peter is also right about the country having no chance of being Net Emissions neutral if we don’t plant a third of it in trees. This is because there are currently barely any plans at all to reduce our actual emissions. We are kicking that can down the road for the generation of 2050 to deal with. Let’s hope the log price is especially high then, for their sake.
So that’s essentially what it comes down to. The heart of the matter is that if you want to keep the NZ we have, you need to either screw up the Net Zero Carbon Bill and trade it for a Bill which has ACTUAL emissions reductions (not ‘net’ ones which allow us to not change anything). Or we except that tourists will be visiting the equivalent of Kaingaroa forest and battling logging trucks for the sake of forest which will likely still be exporting raw logs and carbon credits for the benefit of their foreign owners.
Not that foreign ownership matters most in the greater scheme of things, that is an aside to the real issue, the replacing of farms with forests, regardless of who owns them.
It is worth noting the difference here, because it cuts to the heart of what will really change the most in this country outside of our main cities.
A farm requires someone to live there, it needs constant attention and care or it’s ability to remain productive and a farm is lost and animals suffer. Farming families share remoteness that brings them together to create communities around their schools, halls and sports clubs. Contrary to inaccurate reports about the takeover of corporate farming, in this country the vast majority of farms are owned by owner operators and occupied by their families and those who work with them.
They also have a connection to the land which comes with being its custodian. Every paddock has a name, every fence has the history of who built it and the writing on woolshed walls tell who shore the sheep there. This explains why farmers are prepared to ignore the benefits of forestry incentives (the value of their farms goes up) in order to defend their communities.
Few forest owners (and even fewer who live beyond our shores) look at their estates and feel a sense of wanting to live there. The forests are a resource, not a piece of your identity you want to leave for your children.
The points above are not a criticism of foresters, they obviously have places they call their own, they have communities as well and landmarks they relate to, but they all go home at the end of the day and then the forests go quiet. No one swims in the rivers after school, no one starts the bbq up and has the locals over. The gate is closed and often locked.
This is a conversation that New Zealand needs to have. What do we value? And what we want our provinces to look like 30 years from now.
Urban NZ, it’s in your hands.
Rural New Zealand is bearing the brunt of misguided policies that appease the call to do ‘something’ about climate change even though that ‘something’ is not based on science, will come at a very high economic and social cost.
That the costly ‘something’ will at best produce little environmental gain at best, and may result in higher global emissions, rubs salt into the rural wounds.
Many people from urban New Zealand might get no closer to farms than glancing over fences as they speed down state highways, but they have been vocal about selling land to foreigners.
Their voices have led to a law change that makes it almost impossible for anyone from another country to buy even a run down farm.
We need those urban voices now to join rural New Zealand in condemning the rules that allow foreigners to buy productive farmland for forestry.
We also need those voices to join the rural ones in decrying subsidies that make forestry a more attractive option than food production.
If the right trees are planted in the right places, they don’t need a subsidy.
There is a place for forestry and it’s not on land suited to raising cattle, deer and sheep.
Rural New Zealand knows this and if urban New Zealand doesn’t want the farmland they want kept in New Zealand hands to convert to foreign owned forests they need to join us in the fight for what we all value.