The forest industry strongly supports the proposed national environmental standard for forestry released today by environment minister Hon Dr Nick Smith.
"For the first time, land owners will know before they plant a single tree what harvesting and earthworks standards they have to meet," says Forest Owners Association president Peter Berg.
"Owners of existing forests will draw comfort from knowing they will be able to actually harvest the forests they may have planted decades ago. Sure, they will have to meet strict standards for roading and harvesting - but the rules will be consistent wherever they operate, and well attuned to the regional geology, climate and land use capability.
"The FOA supports robust standards based on science, good forest planning and good engineering practice, applied consistently throughout the country. In some regions this means forest owners will have to meet tougher conditions than they do now. But that's a reasonable price to pay for investor certainty."
At present, rules vary from region to region and between districts within many regions. In many cases land owners have to apply to both regional and district councils for costly and time-consuming resource consents for normal forest operations.
"This can be extremely frustrating for farmers who have forests divided by a district council boundary. They may have to apply for two harvest consents, with all the attendant legal costs," says John Dermer, president of the Farm Forestry Association.
"If the NES becomes law, farm foresters may not have to pay for a consent at all so long as they meet permitted activity standards. Or, if the land is erosion-prone, the consent conditions are likely to be the same on both sides of the boundary. This will be a big step forward."
Mr Berg says getting consents can be hugely costly. He points to the $1 million it cost the owner of a 10,000 ha forest on the Coromandel Peninsula to secure and defend his operating consents and the $100,000-plus a year he shells out for compliance.
"These sorts of costs have become significant barriers to new planting by commercial forest owners. Hopefully Dr Smith's announcement will lead to the adoption of a national approach for managing forestry that in turn will encourage the new planting needed if New Zealand is to meet its 2020 emission reduction targets."
FOA environment committee chair Peter Weir notes that point-source discharges of sediment to waterways from earthworks and quarries within forests remain illegal. He also says the proposed standard will see councils continue to regulate earthworks in terrain that's susceptable to erosion.
"We have no problems with that. Some very fragile soils are not suitable for commercial forestry and councils have a responsibility to ensure they are managed appropriately. One of the big positives of the proposed standard is that councils will be flagging this before trees are planted - not after a land owner has made a substantial investment."
Mr Weir says forestry investors should look long and hard at the afforestation provisions before they buy land, while existing forest owners should focus on the reforestation terms and conditions.
"All land owners should look at the land use classification mapping for their land. On easier country, the NES as proposed makes most operations within a plantation forest a permitted activity, but subject to a suite of defensible terms and conditions. On steeper more erosion-prone country, resource consents for road and landing construction will continue to be required."