I am thrilled that common sense is finally prevailing and there is serious discussion within Government around where forestation can occur.

The Government has signalled that it is keen to move forward to enable councils to limit the area that can be planted in trees in some parts of the country.

Restricting forest plantings through Land Use Capability classes is worth gold to a district like Wairoa.

For years I have been lobbying for a sensible approach to blanket planting and I know there has also been a lot of pressure from other rural communities. Unfortunately, the Government’s response to this urgent matter, which has been destroying our rural communities, is a very slow-moving wheel.

However, I hope now that we finally have the Government’s attention, that progress will be a lot more rapid.

A report commissioned by Baker Ag consultants on what the impact of large-scale forestry in Wairoa could look like if it went ahead demonstrated dire consequences for our district.

A large-scale land use conversion from farming to forestry would result in the net loss of nearly 700 local jobs and $24 million less spent in the local economy.

For an area like Wairoa, continued blanket planting of our land will be the death knell for our community. Forestry has changed, in the past they targeted marginal country, now they are outbidding farmers on prime productive land due to the Government’s carbon credit incentives.

It is a very unlevel playing field between farming and forestry. Forestry used to sit dormant for 30-years with no income from the land or trees. But now because of the Government’s carbon credit incentives they have an income stream which is less risk adverse than farming with no obligation to the community.

And the bigger elephant in the room is trees being planted for Carbon Credits only and they will more than likely never be milled.

A policy that will enable Councils to require resource consent for forestry plantings is a real win.

Local authorities are charged with looking after their districts and the only way that can be achieved is through giving Councils more power through their District Plan so they can help prevent blanket planting and mitigate the risk on small communities. Currently the District Plan is overridden by the Government’s National Environmental Standards for Plantation Forestry.

It is fantastic that the forestry concerns we have been relaying to the Government are being listened to and I am very appreciative of the action from Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor and new Minister of Forestry and our electorate MP Stuart Nash.

I am not against forestry, but I am against losing good farms to trees. We can’t be naive. While forestry tells us about the benefits of their plantings, we don’t see any positive spin off for Wairoa at all.

Wairoa has reached forestry saturation and we are at the point where we not only need to be stopping future forestry planting, but we also need to convert harvested forests back into productive farmland as has happened in other parts of New Zealand.

Forestry must be in moderation. Wairoa’s future is hanging in the balance, it is vital we stop the scales from tipping too far and balance out the forest/farmland ratio.

Wairoa has certainly had challenges in the past and we have got through them. What worries me is this challenge might be too big for us to overcome. Trees might be good for the environment but in our case, they could mark the end of our community.

There’s no doubt forestry contributes to the GDP of our country considerably, but it is certainly not great for small rural areas like Wairoa and our role as elected members is to protect the future of our community we serve.

Wairoa recently had a stint where in less than one year the district lost more than 10,000 ha of land to forestry. This represented about seven percent of our region’s farmland, at this rate, it would only take 13 years for all our farms to be planted. And there have been plenty more farms sold to forestry since then including the recent sale of an exceptional large pastoral farm which looks like it is under contract to go into trees. Agricultural production census figures for 2017 show that in the Wairoa district each 1000 ha of forestry directly employed 1.5 people, compared with 7.6 people for every 1000 ha in sheep and beef farming.

That 10,000 ha equates to the loss of about 60 jobs relating to farming.

Small rural communities like Wairoa cannot sustain the downstream effect blanket planting will have on its economy and employment.

If forestry were committed to supporting primary production in Wairoa, like making products out of the timber, the view of the community would definitely change.

But what we are seeing is truckloads of logs going out of town and having a detrimental effect on our roads and our employment opportunities, particularly as the forestry workers are predominantly from out of town.

Forestry promotes itself as green and beautiful but every 30-years when the forest is harvested all we are seeing is brown and not so beautiful and there seems to be constraints on controlling the harvest site. We have seen the effects of slash in our waterways/beaches time and time again.

The irony is there is every indication there will be a world food shortage in the future, yet we are taking away prime productive land. Covid-19 has highlighted that the only commodity that has not been impacted by the pandemic is food — and we all know you can’t eat wood.

I support riparian planting or selective planting of unproductive land, but we just cannot allow any more viable pastoral agricultural land to be blanket planted in trees.

In Wairoa we have award-winning farmers producing award-winning stock. Wairoa is a rural support town, and we need to preserve that, and the positive spin-offs agriculture provides.

While we are waiting for change more productive farms are being sold to forestry.

I really hope the horse hasn’t already bolted — only time will tell.

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