This opinion article was written by Oliver Hendrickson, Acting Head of Te Uru Rakau – Forestry New Zealand. For more like this, see our environmental policy newsfeed.
In Aotearoa New Zealand, we have a proverb: Toitū te whenua, toitū te tangata.
If you look after the land, the land will look after you. This sentiment is more relevant than ever, as we see mounting pressure on our environment from local and global issues.
We’re fortunate to be a country with an exceptional natural resource base. From the time our ancestors first stepped onto its shores, our environment has provided nourishment, protection, and resources to its inhabitants. People have not only become a part of the environment, they have shaped it to grow food, build houses, and establish settlements, roads, and infrastructure.
Our economy and environment will always be inextricably linked, which is why protecting our environment and supporting our transition to a sustainable, low emissions future is one of the New Zealand government’s top priorities. It is focused on building a productive, sustainable and inclusive economy that supports the wellbeing of all New Zealanders.
Planting a billion trees
To do this, the government has identified a range of initiatives that form an ambitious plan to safeguard our future.
One of these initiatives is the One Billion Trees Programme, launched in 2017. The aim is to see at least one billion trees planted over the next ten years. The vision is to transform New Zealand to improve the economic performance of our regions, the social and cultural outcomes for our people, and the quality of our environment.
Forestry means different things to different people – and that’s a good thing
One Billion Trees is not just about numbers. To achieve our objectives we need to make sure the right trees are in the right place, for the right purpose. We want to see a broad range of exotic and native trees established for both permanent and plantation forests.
We want to see trees that are suitable for the land and that are integrated into existing landscapes, rather than large-scale land conversions to forestry, which would not be sustainable long-term.
Those “right trees” will grow into lush forests that create wide benefits for New Zealand. Among other things, we will see improved land productivity; diversity of income for landowners; opportunities for Māori – the indigenous people of New Zealand – to maximise the potential of their land and resources; environmental issues like erosion and water quality addressed; native biodiversity; new innovative, high value wood products developed; and our climate change commitments met.
Back to the roots
Of course, these wide benefits will resonate differently depending on the values people hold. Forestry means different things to different people – and that’s a good thing. It’s about harnessing those values, ideals and visions to create shared goals that will provide the foundation for a bright future for all New Zealanders.
Te ao Māori — a Māori world view, has an important place in this. It respects the unique connection that people have with the land and helps us see ourselves as a part of, not apart from, the environment. This has never been more crucial.
One way we will achieve this connection is through a strong focus on establishing native trees across the country. 80% of New Zealand was once covered in native forests, now they only cover a little over a quarter of the country. When native forests, shrublands, and wetlands are lost, we lose the wide range of benefits they provide.
Diversify, innovate and grow
Through the One Billion Trees Programme, we will see a resurgence in native cover which will protect and enhance our environment.
Community partnerships and grants to landowners — with higher rates for native trees and regeneration — is an immediate solution to help achieve this. In the longer term, we will see wider changes to regulatory settings, including our Emissions Trading Scheme, which will further encourage tree planting across New Zealand.
As our third largest primary export sector, commercial plantation forestry also plays an important role in meeting our goal, contributing to half of our one billion trees target. The opportunity through government investment is to enable the industry to diversify, innovate and grow.
We’ll do this by partnering with innovators to explore new areas for forestry including species diversification which will help us to move away from the growing and harvesting cycles; new techniques and markets for extracts; technological innovations; and the development of high value wood products for both local and international markets.
We believe now is the time to take action as a country about what we value, what consequences we are prepared to accept, and the kind of country we want our children and mokopuna to inherit. This programme will ensure we continue to invest and nurture the land, as well as produce a return from it – it doesn’t have to be a zero-sum game. — Oliver Hendrickson
Oliver Hendrickson is Acting Head of Te Uru Rakau – Forestry New Zealand – the lead agency for the New Zealand government’s One Billion Trees Programme.
(Picture credit: Unsplash)