Carbon trading forest, Waihopai valley, Marlborough

Media release from the Council of Outdoor Recreational Associations (CORANZ)

An outdoor recreation and conservation advocacy the Council of Outdoor Recreational Associations (CORANZ) is concerned about the widespread and increasing conversion of hill country farms to monocultures of pine trees.

Sparking the concern by CORANZ was a recent issue of CAFCA’s “Foreign Control Watchdog” which listed Overseas Investment Office (OIO) approvals for forestry conversions in several regions such as Waikato, Waitomo, Gisborne, Wairarapa, Marlborough, Nelson, Otago and Southland. Almost without exception, the speculators purchasing farms were foreigners originating from Canada, Malaysia, Austria, Switzerland, Australia, USA, UK, Germany and other countries.  

“Clearly, the world sees New Zealand as ripe for picking in terms of speculative investment,” said CORANZ chairman Andi Cockroft of Wellington. “The OIO is not functioning in New Zealand’s interests.” 

He commented that for New Zealanders to buy land overseas was “virtually impossible” in many countries, notably China.

Government encouraging farmland conversion into trees

Cockroft said allowing wholesale conversion of productive sheep and beef farms into monocultures of pine trees was short-sighted.

The transition from (a) farms to pines and (b) New Zealand farms to foreign ownership was accelerated by the short-sighted government policy of “A Billion Trees” with exotic trees prominent. The Labour government actively encouraged foreign investors.

“It leaves NZ’s farming at the mercy of market forces. If wool or meat prices are at a low level, if OIO controls are lax, of course, the foreign investors will make a play. That’s what’s happening. But the government seems asleep.”

Pinus radiata monocultures inhibited bio-diversity and were environmentally degrading with depleted stream flows and heavy siltation of rivers and estuaries following clear-felling logging.

Unfortunate environmental side effects from pine monoculture

Past attention about water and river quality had almost exclusively focused on so-called “dirty dairying” but there were questions to be asked about other land use such as extensive forestry.

Another aspect of forestry monoculture of concern was lowered pH levels i.e. acidification of the soils and therefore increased acidic runoff into waterways.  

The establishment of pine forests often resulted in clearance by burning of early regenerating native vegetation ranging from fern to native shrubbery and bush so that hillsides could be roaded, and pines planted for the dubious purpose of carbon trading he said.

Carbon trading created a speculative arena for foreign-based corporate speculators. One Malaysian-owned forestry corporate in Marlborough had converted several former sheep and beef hill country stations to large scale pine forests. In the Marlborough Sounds, inner inlets had been badly silted up from runoff from clear-felled pine forests, smothering the ecosystem and causing aquatic life to decline.

 Allowing monocultures of pines in the high country inevitably led, as forests matured, to a proliferation of windblown wilding pines which were already a major environmental problem in Marlborough’s Waihopai, Branch and Leatham valleys the Mackenzie Basin, Southern lakes, and other areas.

“The question has to be asked what are the Ministry for the Environment and Department of Conservation doing? The invasion of high country by wilding pines over the last 20 years has seen DOC doing little to nothing,” said Cockroft.