Tree options will support vulnerable farm and forest lands in Aotearoa

by | Mar 24, 2023

New Zealand’s Farm Forestry Association says the convened Ministerial Inquiry, into land use across Tairāwhiti, needs to look closely at the tree options for shoring up vulnerable farm and former forest land in the region, or it will leave a legacy of mistakes long into the future, reported Timberbiz.

President, Graham West, says it is no longer just a simple matter of deciding between production pines and native trees.

“With climate change, forests need to be multifunctional in response. They need to intercept rainfall with deep crowns. They need to root graft to link together the tree roots across the hillside, and they need to sequester carbon and hold it for long periods. Many forest systems only do one or two of these three things,” he said.

More than 40 years of forest research experience shows him that in the face of increasing regulation to manage water quality, soil erosion, and farm emissions; trees are the most benign option farmers and other landowners can take to adapt to a new era of environmentally aware markets and changing climate.

“The recent climate damage experienced in the North Island from Cyclone Gabrielle has highlighted the need to adapt and accept this is possibly a new normal for all the primary sectors,” Mr West said.

“While some may claim Cyclone Gabrielle was historically unexceptional, although infrequent, my concern is we cannot afford to be wrong about that. Can we afford the loss of production and mounting infrastructure costs, not forgetting the loss of life? Will ‘normal’ keep changing and is worse yet to come?” he said.

“The right trees are part of the solution. But we need to derive enough wealth from them to cover the costs. Adequate tree planting on farms, and riparian zones, takes time and money. Trees need to be well established to endure the challenge of a cyclonic downpour, especially on the steep mudstone slopes common in Tairāwhiti.

 Mr West says that some sites are going to have to rethink what is the purpose of the forest and how they maximise that objective.

“We do not have all the answers in farm forestry. But we have been working with a variety of species and forest systems for decades. Farm foresters have many diverse practical examples to study,” Mr West concluded.