Native trees to be planted on unusable forestry land to protect waterways

16 Sep 21

Article published on Stuff website on Tuesday 7 September 2021

One of the country’s largest forestry plantation owners, Aratu Forests, has signed a 90-year agreement with eLandNZ to plant native trees on unusable land, creating permanent buffers alongside waterways.

The partnership, brokered by law firm Anderson Lloyd, plans to stop forestry waste, such as logs, from being washed into waterways by planting native trees on otherwise unusable stretches of land across 33,000 hectares of forestry plantation, mostly in the Gisborne region, forestry law specialist Dan Williams​ said.

About 170 ha of riparian land would be planted this year, according to the eLandNZ website.

eLandNZ describes itself as a sustainable land use company, will manage the ongoing planting. The scheme has the backing of Ūawanui, the Gisborne District Council and Crown Research Institute Scion.

Aratu, formerly Hikurangi Forest Farms, was fined $379,500 in the Environment Court in February last year, after a storm hit Tolaga Bay on Queen’s Birthday weekend in 2018,washing more than 40,000 cubic metres of wood, or slash, onto beaches.

Aratu plead guilty to discharging slash into the environment. In July last year forestry waste again flooded the beaches of Tolaga Bay.

Williams said besides protecting waterways from slash it was also hoped that use of marginal land for planting natives would benefit Gisborne and enhance sustainability and biodiversity.

Native trees would help to stabilise the plantation lands and prevent water run off that could lead to slash events like Tolaga Bay, as well as storing more carbon.

Biodiversity and sustainability were becoming an attractive selling point for both investors and lenders, and was a growing part of the law firm’s business, he said.

Ten to 15 years ago, Aratu might have left the unusable forestry land, Williams said.

“But now, we can help our clients realise value that’s more than just economic.”

Anderson Lloyd has employed specialists in carbon trading, the Emissions Trading Scheme and climate change, because of the increased interest.

Changes to the regulatory approach had led to new business opportunities for farmers, because the rising price of carbon meant farmers could plant trees or establish other carbon projects on marginal land, he said.

“There’s a whole new world out there now. Carbon units that were selling for $25 two years ago are now going for $49.”

Marginal land like steep farm country was difficult to make a return on and farmers were investing in forestry to earn more, Williams said.

Enquiries about native tree regeneration projects that used non-traditional ways of financing, including carbon credits, were also increasing.

“We have worked on projects for a range of clients including large scale emitters, iwi groups and conservation trusts looking at using carbon credits to help at least offset some of the costs,” Williams said.

But farmers have been warning about the pace of productive sheep and beef farm sales to carbon investors since the special forestry test was introduced in October 2018.

Conversions have been accused of undermining rural communities and replacing them with “a green desert” by farmers.

The special forestry test is only for production forests and cannot be used for permanent forestry or carbon farming and trees must be replanted after harvest. But, it Farmer lobby group 50 Shades of Green have said the sales are driven by carbon credits.

The group has been vocal in its opposition to the sales, claiming they were “risk-free investments”, in which buyers had little incentive to harvest the forests if the price of carbon continued to rise.

Last year King Country farmer, Dani Darke, invited carbon investors to pay for the planting and fencing of pine trees on 10ha of her land and collect the carbon credits. In exchange, she would retain ownership of the land and ensure the pine trees were planted in the appropriate place, normally marginal land that could not be farmed.

Darke said she was concerned for her community if corporates bought swathes of land for blanket planting under the Emissions Trading Scheme.


Want to know more?

If you have any questions about this article, please contact our specialist Carbon trading, emissions trading scheme and climate change team

Read the article on the Stuff website here.