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Forestry conversions ‘a perfect storm’

Kim Stewart Nov 11
Forestry conversions ‘a perfect storm’
Wairarapa farmer and 50 Shades of Green member Michael Butterick is concerned at the upsurge in farmland being converted to forestry.

Rural New Zealand is experiencing 50 Shades of Green as a new campaign heats up warning people of the long term implications of Government policy, which has seen large swathes of the country rapidly planted in pine trees.

“We liken this to a perfect storm,” says farmer Michael Butterick, one of the people behind the campaign.

“We’re seeing blanket planting of pine trees on productive farmland. This is in direct conflict with the Paris Accord, which states that we have to reduce emissions but not at the expense of food production.”

Michael, who farms 3000ha in the Wairarapa in a company partnership, trading bulls and lambs and breeding ewes, says that thousands of hectares of New Zealand farmland have been converted in the past year and that the speed and scale at which significant land use change was happening was a recipe for disaster.

He says that it is the interaction of multiple policies that are proving problematic and not achieving the Government’s desired outcomes.

Planting trees to offset greenhouse gas emissions and meet reduction targets is tilting the market in favour of forestry investors without changing the underlying behaviour causing the emissions in the first place, he says.

“There is the relaxation of the Overseas Investment Act with regards to forestry investment. People don’t have to prove any betterment to New Zealand. With regards to the Emissions Trading Scheme, emitters have no incentive to change their behaviour. In terms of the Zero Carbon Bill farmers are not able to offset their methane emissions by planting trees on their own farms. But someone can buy our farm to plant in trees to offset their carbon dioxide emissions. It doesn’t make sense.”

Michael is concerned at what he considers a massive upsurge in farmland being converted to forestry. He points to Wairoa as a case in point.

“In the past year Wairoa has lost seven per cent of its land to pine tree planting. If things continue at this rate in another 12 months the viability of the meat works in that town would be questionable. That would be a big impact on that region and a lot of lost jobs.”

He says the same thing is happening in other parts of New Zealand, which led to the start of 50 Shades of Green to raise awareness.

“We’re calling for a full and independent assessment of the long-term effect of the current government policy. We also want the government to put Forestry conversions ‘a perfect storm’Karen Phelpson hold all Overseas Investment Office applications for new planting until the full assessment has taken place.”

He says the focus should be on planting the right tree in the right place and seeking a common sense solution for the long-term balance of the New Zealand landscape and economy.

“We’re very good at what we do in New Zealand. We are producing every one kilogram of meat or one litre of milk at about half the amount of greenhouse emissions compared with the rest of the world. The interaction of government policies is putting all this at risk and putting the provinces at risk.”

He says the effects will not just be limited to rural New Zealand but will have a flow on affect for the country with 47% of New Zealand’s mercantile export income derived from the pastoral sector in 2018.

“Urban people think that planting pine trees is an easy fix. But a pine tree is only a 20 year band aid. It’s delaying the inevitable unless emitters change their behaviour. And the damage that could be done to provincial New Zealand and New Zealand as a whole is catastrophic. We need to consider the social, economic and environmental costs. Remember that someone once thought things like gorse, rabbits and possums were a good idea.”

Michael says that the 50 Shades of Green campaign has proved incredibly popular since it was launched and gained real momentum as it aims to raise awareness and create a conversation around the issue.

He urges people to visit www.50shadesofgreen.co.nz and sign the petition and make a submission to the Climate Change Response (Zero Carbon) Amendment Bill before 16 July.

“Damien O’Connor, Minister of Agriculture and Minister for Biosecurity, Food Safety, and Rural Communities and Minister of State for Trade and Export Growth, has announced that the Government is bringing forward a review of the OIO (which was due next year) as well as considering allowing planting, not previously considered, to be used for offsetting agriculture emissions.

“This is significant and demonstrates the Government is now listening. You can’t just sit back and think someone else will do something about this. You have to make yourself heard. The submission to the Climate Change Response (Zero Carbon) Amendment Bill is one of the most important sub-missions Kiwis can make.”

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