The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) is now consulting on proposals to change the existing land use management regime applicable to exotic (non-indigenous) afforestation in Aotearoa New Zealand.
The proposals involve significant changes to the Resource Management (National Environmental Standards for Plantation Forestry) Regulations 2017 (NES-PF) which will apply to exotic plantation forestry (forestry that will be harvested and replanted, also referred to as production forestry) and exotic carbon forestry (forestry that will not be harvested, also referred to as permanent forestry). Indigenous natural forests are outside the scope of the proposed changes.
The proposals are set out in a discussion document, National direction for plantation and exotic carbon afforestation, (Discussion Document), and relate to four topics:
Managing the environmental effects of exotic carbon forests;
Controlling the location of exotic carbon and plantation afforestation to manage social, cultural, and economic effects;
Improving wildfire management in exotic carbon and plantation forests; and
Findings of the Year One Review of the NES-PF.
In general, the proposals will give rise to additional regulation for exotic forestry, and also have the potential to result in a more localised approach to managing exotic forestry.
The proposals will directly affect those who own, manage, or have an interest in exotic forestry. They will also be of interest to rural communities and local government.
On the back of consultation undertaken earlier this year (see our March 2022 News Alert), the Government has also confirmed that exotic forestry will be able to be registered in the new permanent forest category of the New Zealand Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) when the permanent forestry category opens on 1 January 2023. However, the Government has indicated that the permanent forest category will be redesigned in the future. Further consideration of a long rotation forest category will be undertaken alongside work on the future design of the permanent forest category.
Background to the proposals
New Zealand is experiencing increased investment in forestry due to greater demand for wood products, a developing bioeconomy, and an increase in the price of carbon. In particular, the increase in the price of carbon in the ETS is driving an increase in permanent exotic afforestation.
The increase in afforestation has led to concerns from some stakeholders, including the Government, about the environmental, social, cultural, and economic effects of exotic forestry. Environmental concerns generally relate to the effects of exotic forestry on biodiversity and risks from erosion and wildfires. Social and economic concerns largely relate to the effects of widespread conversion of farmland to forestry on rural communities.
These concerns have prompted the Government to consider how afforestation and established forestry can be managed to mitigate these risks.
Managing the environmental effects of exotic carbon forests
The environmental effects of plantation forestry are managed under the NES-PF. For example, the NES-PF includes regulations requiring setbacks from significant natural areas and wetlands and requirements for forestry earthworks management plans and harvest plans.
Exotic carbon forests are not subject to the NES‑PF. It is up to local authorities to implement rules and standards relating to the management of exotic carbon forestry in regional and district plans, but few authorities have done so.
The Discussion Document sets out two options for managing the environmental effects of exotic carbon forests:
- Amend the NES-PF so that the existing regulatory controls that apply to plantation forests also apply to carbon forests; and / or
- Amend the NES-PF to require forest management plans for exotic carbon forests. A forest management plan would cover the life of the forest. The Discussion Document indicates that a forest management plan may cover fire, pests, health and safety, selective harvest, actions and milestones for managing biodiversity and transitioning the forest to an indigenous forest.
Controlling the location of exotic carbon and plantation afforestation to manage social, cultural, and economic effects
Under the NES-PF, local authorities are able to make rules and standards to manage effects and activities that are not covered by the NES-PF, such as the social, cultural, and economic effects of plantation forestry.
Local authorities can also make rules and standards to manage the social, cultural, and economic effects of exotic carbon forestry. However, local authorities have generally not implemented rules and standards in plans to manage such effects.
The Discussion Document sets out two options to manage the social, cultural, and economic effects of exotic afforestation:
- Amend the NES-PF to enable local authorities to make more stringent rules relating to afforestation for exotic carbon and planation forests, and explicitly state that local authorities have the ability to make plan rules and supporting policies and objectives for matters outside the NES-PF; or
- Develop a national consenting framework either under the RMA (by amending the NES-PF or creating a new NES) or under the proposed new resource management legislation as part of the National Planning Framework. The national consenting framework could apply nationally or only to some districts, could be time-limited (or not), and could require consent for forests depending on the class of land on which afforestation is proposed or the size of the proposed forest. The type of consent required may depend on whether the forestry is plantation forest or carbon forest.
Option 1 could potentially result in inconsistency at a national level about where afforestation can occur as different local authorities are likely to take different approaches controlling afforestation. Option 2 may provide more consistency, but it could also impose consenting requirements for afforestation in areas where local authorities are happy for afforestation to occur.
Improving wildfire management in exotic carbon and plantation forests
The risk of wildfires is expected to increase with climate change. However, at present there is no uniform regulatory approach to fire management in land use or natural hazard planning.
The Discussion Document proposes to introduce a requirement for all forests that are over 1 hectare and covered by the NES-PF to have a wildfire risk management plan (WRMP). A WRMP would address a range of actions including:
- Establishment and management of forest to reduce wildfire risk;
- Strategies and measures to minimise damage; and
- Detecting wildfires.
As noted above, exotic carbon forests are not currently subject to the NES-PF. However, we understand that exotic carbon forests would be included in the NES-PF and required to have a WRMP under this proposal.
Findings of the Year One Review of the NES-PF
The Year One Review of the NES-PF was completed in 2020 by Te Uru Rākau – New Zealand Forest Service and the Ministry for the Environment. It found that the NES-PF is overall an effective framework for maintaining or improving the environmental outcomes associated with plantation forestry activities. However, the review identified some changes that could be made to improve outcomes. The Discussion Document proposes amendments to the NES-PF to address these items, including:
- Wilding conifer risk management – MPI is updating the wilding tree risk calculator and considering how it can be applied to assess wilding conifer risk over the long term;
- Slash management – how slash management provisions can be improved to provide clarity and better protection for high-risk areas;
- Alignment with Resource Management (National Environmental Standards for Freshwater) Regulations 2020 (NES-Freshwater) – updates to provisions and definitions in the NES-PF to align it with the NES-Freshwater; and
- Operational amendments – support local authorities need to implement the NES-PF and to undertake compliance, monitoring, and enforcement.
Have your say and make a submission
Submissions on the Discussion Document are open now and close on 18 November 2022.
We encourage those who are affected by the proposals to make a submission and provide their views to MPI.
If you have any questions about the proposed changes and how they will impact you and your interests, or if you would like our assistance to prepare a submission on the proposals in the Discussion Document, please get in touch with one of our experts.
This article was co-authored by Henry Sullivan, a solicitor in our Real Estate - Environment team.
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