Speeches

Speech to the World Forestry Congress

Tuesday, September 8, 2015 - 16:42
Primary Industries

E aku Rangatira Tena koutou katoa.

Ka nui te honore ki te mihi ki a koutou

Distinguished audience Greetings to you all.

It is my pleasure to speak with you at this time.

Tonight I will talk about New Zealand’s forests, and how the New Zealand government is supporting the industry in a focused and targeted way.

We have specific challenges to address, and we want to add value to the industry as a whole.

This Congress is all about collaboration and learning from each other.

I hope that New Zealand’s story tonight can provide lessons for those who are faced with similar land use challenges, as we work together towards the global goal of sustainable forest management.

Equally I look forward to taking home elements from other countries to assist us in our work.

In my role as New Zealand’s minister responsible for forestry, I have had the pleasure of seeing much of our country’s forestry resource, and meeting the people and businesses that make up the industry.

The value of forests for New Zealand is immense - for our economy, for our environment, and for the people and communities.

It is a core part of our history, our culture, and, indeed, our identity.

We know that to be successful, you must first understand where you have come from, be able to reflect on where you are now, and determine what is important.

This allows you to move forward with a sense of purpose.

It gives you the ability to balance the many, often competing, demands on land and forests.

Today, forestry in New Zealand is characterised by a clear separation between the largely exotic plantation forests, and the indigenous forests, much of which are held in public ownership for conservation purposes.

Exotic plantation forests

The 1.7 million hectares of plantation forest provides the bulk of our timber production, and is almost entirely under private ownership.

This is as a result of the sale of the government-owned forestry enterprises in the 1980s and 1990s.

Some of this forest is on its second or third rotation, demonstrating that we have a successful, sustainable and proven timber supply.

Currently, forest ownership is a mix of a few large forests owners and many small holders:

The 10 largest forest owners account for 41 percent of planted production forest.

The remaining over ten thousand small holders have forests of between 5 and 40 hectares. They often manage forests in conjunction with other land uses.

Just under one third of the plantation area is under Māori ownership.

New Zealand’s Treaty of Waitangi settlements continue to transfer land from the government to Iwi, the indigenous tribal groups of New Zealand.

In addition, 61 percent of gross plantation forestry area has FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) certification.

Indigenous forests

Just over five million of our eight million hectares of indigenous forest is under the ownership and the protection of our Department of Conservation, with the remaining area under Māori or private ownership.

Indigenous forests on private land can be harvested, but only under strict sustainable forest management legislation.

Smarter land use

The dual nature of our forests means we can have a privately-owned export industry, while also dedicating significant conservation effort to our indigenous forests.

This is under-pinned by a resource management framework that takes an integrated approach to the land sector. 

The government removed direct agriculture and forestry support many years ago, and these two industries compete on the basis of market drivers.

We believe that sustainable forest management can be best achieved through “smarter land use”.

Smarter land use is about balancing environmental, social, cultural and economic priorities.

It is about ensuring the sustainable production of quality food and fibre for export to the world.

Forestry policies for smarter land use

While the market determines the optimal land use, we have a range of targeted initiatives and schemes for forestry– and I emphasise the word “targeted”.

I will share three examples with you now.

Our Afforestation Grant Scheme provides grants to encourage land owners to plant small to medium blocks of new forest, where there are soil erosion or water quality benefits.

In return, the Crown keeps any carbon credits from these forests for 10 years, and these forests will be new carbon sinks for many years to come.

The Erosion Control Funding Programme funds the planting of trees or regeneration of indigenous forests on highly erosion-prone land.

The Permanent Forestry Sink Initiative encourages the establishment of long term forests for carbon sinks.

This programme targets marginal land, providing incentive to establish and maintain permanent forests on New Zealand’s 1.45 million hectares of highly erodible marginal pasture land.

The permanent nature of these forests has at times seen forest owners receive premiums for the carbon credits from these forests.

Iwi/Māori

Māori, the indigenous people of New Zealand, are important forestry stakeholders.

The significant Government-Iwi partnership approach to forests continues to develop.

Approximately 24 percent, or 300,000 hectares, of privately owned indigenous forest land is under Māori ownership.

Māori people are kaitiaki whenua, or guardians of the land, and forests are a taonga, or treasured.

An important part of this responsibility is the inter-generational view of forests and maintaining the resource for future generations.

Native forests hold great value for Māori; as places to feed, teach, and heal people and communities, and to seek spirituality.

Iwi participate in significant native conservation projects, restoring coastal and degraded land, and placing covenants on important lands.

Over the last 25 years a significant amount of forestry plantation land has transferred from the Crown to Iwi via Treaty of Waitangi settlements.

I look forward to hearing from Courteney Sealey later this evening about her work on, among other things, the relationship between Māori values and the current frameworks for reporting sustainable forest management.

Health and safety

Health and safety is the New Zealand forestry industry’s most significant challenge.

The injury rate for the forestry sector is double that of other sectors, and sadly, fatalities reached a peak in 2013.

I am glad to say that this has improved since.

There will always be risks in the forest sector, but this level of harm is not acceptable. 

Government is working with industry to improve worker safety, including our biggest reforms of health and safety legislation in at least 20 years, critical changes to forest industry codes of practice, and a new and specific industry safety council.

A safer industry requires a cultural shift akin to that of the adoption of seatbelts in cars.

All players in the industry must work together to instil a culture that does not tolerate a casual approach to safety.

Skills and employment

New Zealand has put a significant focus on skills and safety for forestry employment.

Recognising the socio-economic value of forest resources at the regional level, we have committed to attract investment to the regions and create a safer environment for more higher-paying forestry jobs.

Increased productivity within the sector through enhanced mechanisation is leading to a change in the workforce needed for the industry: the work force of the future will be larger and more highly skilled.

We estimate that our forestry sector will require an additional 15,000 workers with formal post-school qualifications by 2025.

This will represent an increase from the present 48 percent to approximately 77 percent of the workforce.

How will we do this?

A current focus has been increasing engagement with young students to show them the range of opportunities available in the forestry sector.

These are opportunities beyond the forest-gate; in areas such as science and genetics, engineering, and innovative and sustainable timber design.

We need to change the face of forestry employment.

We need to re-brand the sector for what it can be: a safer, more highly skilled and altogether attractive career path.

Innovation

We see the key to successful innovation is government working in partnership with industry.

The Primary Growth Partnership is a government-industry initiative that invests in business-led, market-driven innovation programmes that work across the primary industry value chain.

To date over $12 million has been invested in forestry innovation projects under this Programme, of which around $6 million is from industry.

A recently completed example is the Stump to Pump programme, which explores the feasibility of producing liquid biofuels from forest harvesting residues.

This technology has exciting potential to address multiple environmental challenges while increasing forest profitability.

A current example is the Steepland Harvesting Programme, which has developed new innovative harvesting equipment to improve the safety, precision and productivity of harvesting in our hill country forests.

This project is projected to return $100 million in benefits each year by 2025.

Engineered Wood Products

A large part of building the size, attractiveness and value of the industry and the job market is lifting the profile of our impressive engineered wood products. 

Our radiata pine is proven to be a versatile, easily worked and attractive source of timber for a range of end-uses.

New Zealand processors and retailers have used this resource to great ends; the visuals you are seeing today exhibit some of our fine wood products.

However, as a government we cannot favour one industry over another.

Lifting the profile of our engineered wood products is not about subsidies or protectionism.

Timber needs to stand on its own merits, and it does.

Instead, the New Zealand government looks to remove the roadblocks and smooth the path to domestic and international markets.

This means removing supply chain blockages, addressing skills shortages, plugging information gaps, and building the capacity of support systems.

New Zealand’s Montreal Process report

The initiatives that I have outlined today have come about through some smart thinking - from understanding and acknowledging our situation, and where we want to be.

Understanding requires good information, and robust monitoring and reporting systems.

It is with pleasure today that I present to you New Zealand’s Third Country Report on the Montreal Process Criteria and Indicators for Sustainable Forest Management.

This report provides an overview of the current state of New Zealand’s forests and covers a range of the environmental, commercial, social and cultural issues associated with those forests.

It acknowledges our achievements and developments since the last report in 2008, but also the challenges we face.

I have confidence that future versions of this (rather weighty!) report will reflect the success of the targeted initiatives that I have touched on today.

I encourage you to view the report and invite you to discuss any of the issues I have touched on today with the New Zealand officials present here.