The Labour government and its former coalition partners NZ First and the Greens made some shocking but little known changes in 2018.
As a result their vision for planting 1 billion trees seems to have become immeasurable harm from clear-felling, monoculture, pine slash, and storm generated log flumes smashing bridges as they wash down swollen streams. The incentives have prioritised green-washing over food and our people, locking up prime farm land and destroying communities as investors greedily farm thin air – in the name of “carbon credit farming”.
Usual Overseas Investment restrictions are avoided under this scheme, creating a loophole for the mass overseas purchase of our land and transferrable carbon credits that offer nothing of benefit to New Zealand, and serious erosion of the New Zealand we used to know. The full impact on the NZ way of life is not yet fully understood by many New Zealanders.
“Shane Jones” billion trees policy was supported by changes to the rules around planting trees for carbon credits and relaxation of the rules of foreign ownership. Even now after several inept reviews, foreign interests can still purchase large chunks of NZ farmland and plant it in exotic pines to claim carbon credits. The criteria don’t appear to investigate anything other than one-off financial gain for the vendor. The longer term economic and social cost of losing farming families from the land is ignored. The result is the sale of many productive sheep and beef farms that support farming families and other rural contractors and produce food for a hungry world.
The race is now on with over 100,000 acres being snaffled up in the last year and planted, in addition to existing production forests being quietly moved into carbon credit banks. New announcements made on an almost daily basis of yet more productive rural properties being snapped up. It continues despite desperate calls from farming groups as the government seems deaf to their concerns.
So, how does that land use change impact on the New Zealand way of life? The landscape being dominated by an exotic species that most animals and plants can not live under creates a monoculture wasteland. Pine forests cause downstream pollution problems, both in terms of water quality and waste. Each significant storm repeats this devastation. And weed pines are causing further environmental disaster needing man power and poisons to control them. Over Exotic pine forests are susceptible to wild fires as we saw in Nelson a few years back and they suck all the nutrients and moisture out of the soil leaving it damaged. They are simply not a sustainable option. The horrific destruction on Kangaroo Island should be a lesson in ‘the wrong tree in the wrong place’ and lack of accountability when the company failed financially and left an entire island to burn, killing millions of native animals and altering the landscape forever.
The slash and waste from harvested pine forests has been destroying downstream properties and coastal beaches with no cost or penalty to the plantation owner. This waste is creating incredible problems for councils, costing hundreds of thousands of dollars to dispose of the waste let alone the cost to those whose properties are damaged. There has even been a tragic death this year due to forestry waste on a Gisborne beach. There seems to be no accountability for the damaging effects pine forests are having. Other countries such as the U.K. have well established common law “nuisance” principles available. It is past time to sort this problem out.
But the real problem will be the huge social upheaval due to the stripping out of our rural communities. Whole areas will be depopulated by farmers moving out.
Shepherds, shearers and other farm contractors are no longer required, rural contractors such as bulldozer drivers and haymakers close down, as do the local schools and the vet. Many other businesses such as the handyman, garage and the rural bureaucrats who provide farming monitoring and advice, and rural supply companies will all perish. In the past many city families had friends or relatives on farms and they kept their rural links by visits and helping out. This connection to our rural roots will be lost as farming families sell up or local farmers can’t afford to buy, competing against the massive carbon credit ‘farmers’. These forests are locked up for 50 or so years with no real work involved will utterly destroy rural New Zealand.
Land being locked up in exotic pine forests is happening at an astounding rate. In the last 5 years sales for carbon farming have been about 1/2 million acres and escalating as the price received for credits goes through the roof. The value of land is substantially increased to be more than food production values, so kiwi farmers can’t afford to buy farms, leaving much of NZ in the hands of overseas corporate companies. Right now, we have 1.7 million hectares in foreign ownership with one company alone owning 77,000 hectares. I note one farmer said that he received 2 million dollars more for his farm as a carbon credit enterprise as opposed to if he sold it for farming. Sadly, this short term thinking is going to come around and bite us.
Commercial forestry is affecting kiwis recreational access. The locals who previously accessed that land for hunting and fishing or recreation, are unable to access these carbon credit forest as they have very restricted access, with padlocked gates and trespass signs. It was a kiwi way for most local land owners to allow people access to their farms for fishing, hunting, bush walking or camping.
Access to many rivers and fisheries of importance are already lost, such as one of the great fishing rivers within the Kaiangaroa forest planted by Kiwis during the great depression and now owned by mostly foreign interests such as the Canadian pension fund and the Harvard university pension funds. Access has been denied to New Zealanders despite huge public meetings. We’ve been locked out of access to fisheries like the Rangitaiki River, as well as the vast hunting areas of over 500,000 acres of traditional deer, pig and game bird hunting for local food gathering. New forests are being planted, capturing other valuable resources and rivers where access is or will be denied as they are planted. Most outdoors people are starting to experience access issues as this dramatic change in land use takes hold. I am reminded of the lovely spring creeks of the Waikato River once easily accessed while NZ owned, now inaccessible due to land use change.
As the price of carbon credits escalates and some are predicting $120.00 per ton (now $77.00), the price investors are prepared to pay for land, puts flat productive farm land in the firing line instead of hill country farms. The official statistics always seem to lag behind the never ending stream of announcements of sales of farms for carbon credits. The investors would prefer to purchase clean farms for several reasons including the land is ready to plant without any need to clear scrub, easier to access and plant on the flat or use machines to plant. An example of those sales is in this article below (b) or another (c) with lots more recent sales have been signaled. One company boasts 250,000 acres now planted and is projecting to plant another 50,000 acres in the next few years.
The issue of valuing carbon locked up in the soil of grasslands has never been seriously considered but has many merits such as the ability to grow food while storing carbon. This circumnavigates the problem of carbon release due to forest fires, as carbon is retained in the soil.
The question is what can ordinary New Zealanders do in the absence of government action? Why has this government got policies which promote the sale of our land for harmful pine plantations? Why would any responsible government lock up land so it provides no economic benefit to NZ yet we bear ongoing harm from pollution and runoff? How did a “Green” party in coalition with NZ First and Labour allow that to happen?
As families from the rural areas are left with no option but to move to the cities, the schools close and the local communities die, the government has a Minister whose job is still to encourage the planting of a billion trees. This is madness! No doubt the carbon credit market will eventually collapse, as have many of the historical gold rush schemes in NZ, and then what? How can this madness be modified to be of benefit to New Zealand and our people?
Expect to see “no access” signs go up everywhere you have previously fished and hunted and enjoyed the great outdoors.
The NZ Outdoors & Freedom Party is developing policy around this issue including the following:
- Ban all exotic forest farm conversions for carbon credits.
- Encourage mixed native tree carbon forest plantings
- Do not allow conversion of production forests to carbon farming
- Make forest owners responsible for the environmental damage they cause