Jason Heale, Communications Manager at independent think-thank Maxim Institute in Auckland New Zealand

Carbon footprint forestation is stomping rural New Zealand

By Jason Heale October 15, 2021

Growing up on the outskirts of Auckland, I always had this idea that ‘the future’ would be several mega-cities connected by a suspended monorail and surrounded by dense, uninhabited forest. Guess what? This dream may the reality of future New Zealand. 

In an effort to lower (or at least offset) our carbon footprint more and more farms are being converted to forests. At least five have been approved for sale to overseas companies this year alone.

Superficially, it looks great. Sell some farms; make tens of millions of dollars, lower our carbon footprint, plant trees on low yield or unproductive land, and reap the rewards. Potentially you can earn up to 20% return on an investment like that, without having to even visit the land. 

But this is short-term futurism. 

What about the rural communities that have grown to nurture the farms?

An attempt to heal the planet could ruin our land. Intense forestation depletes soil. This is not a new phenomenon. We can learn from the story of a forest in Germany in the 18th Century, the disaster of which caused a new word— Walsterben, meaning “forest death”—to come into use. Intense forestry caused systemic collapse of the ecosystem. Moreover, what about the future? What happens in 30 years’ time when these trees are harvested? Will there be replanting? Or 100 years’ time, when they are no longer profitable?

Damage to rural communities damages our country.

Meanwhile there’s a question for us now: What about the rural communities that have grown to nurture the farms? When farms are sold, farmers depart, crushing the rural support sector. Schools have already closedbecause of this, and many now have declining numbers on their rolls due to the loss of jobs forcing people to move away. Our rural communities, the backbone of our country, are being decimated by the unintended consequences of overseas investment.

We are a heavily urbanised country, and yet we are heavily dependent on these primary industry communities, domestically and in terms of exports. Damage to them damages our country.

But maybe we’re not seeing the wood for the trees. Those banal, possibly ruinous, acres of investment pine might be hiding an opportunity. 

Farmers can integrate these forests onto their farms.

Let the farmers take the lead in figuring this out.

After all, they know which land is the most productive for farming, which is high erosion, and which would be best planted. Mixed land use is an innovative way for “New Zealand can meet its climate obligations and still maintain livestock production.” says Beef +Lamb NZ chief executive Sam McIvor. We can reap the benefits of both worlds, mixing profitability with the sustainability… of communities as well as the land.

So let’s let the farmers take the lead in figuring this out. It could be a win-win for them, and for our country. We can’t passively allow my childhood daydream to become forestation nightmare; let’s choose a future that benefits us, all of us.

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Jason Heale, Communications Manager at independent think-thank Maxim Institute in Auckland New Zealand

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