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March, 2023

Future forests need to be multifunctional to meet climate change in Tairawhiti

The Farm Forestry Association says the just convened Ministerial Inquiry, into land-use across Tairāwhiti, needs to look closely at the tree options for shoring up vulnerable farm and former forest land in the region, or it will leave a legacy of mistakes long into the future.

The President, Graham West, says it is no longer just a simple matter of deciding between production pines and native trees.

“With climate change, forests need to be multifunctional in response. They need to intercept rainfall with deep crowns.  They need to root graft to link together the tree roots across the hillside, and they need to sequester carbon and hold it for long periods.”

“Many forest systems only do one or two of these three things.”

Graham West says more than 40 years of his forest research experience shows to him that in the face of increasing regulation to manage water quality, soil erosion, and farm emissions; trees are the most benign option farmers and other landowners can take to adapt to a new era of environmentally aware markets and changing climate.”

“The recent climate damage experienced in the North Island from Cyclone Gabrielle has highlighted the need to adapt and accept this is possibly a new normal for all the primary sectors.”

“While some may claim Cyclone Gabrielle was historically unexceptional, although infrequent, my concern is we can’t afford to be wrong about that.”

Can we afford the loss of production and mounting infrastructure costs, not forgetting the loss of life?  Will ‘normal’ keep changing and is worse yet to come?” Graham West asks.

“The right trees are part of the solution.  But we need to derive enough wealth from them to cover the costs.”

“Adequate tree planting on farms, and riparian zones, takes time and money. Trees need to be well established to endure the challenge of a cyclonic downpour, especially on the steep mudstone slopes common in Tairāwhiti.”

“On some sites we are going to have to rethink what is the purpose of the forest and how do we maximise that objective.”

“Clearly, we don’t have all the answers in farm forestry.  But we have been working with a variety of species and forest systems for decades. Farm foresters have many diverse practical examples to study,” Graham West says.

The theme of the next Farm Forestry Association annual conference, in Timaru on the 30th of March to the 3rd of April, has the theme The new normal: opportunity or threat. With formal presentations and three days of field visits this topic will be vigorously debated Graham West says and new information will come to light.

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