Wild and perverse ETS disincentives

After designing an emissions trading scheme for the last government that let farmers off the hook for five years, MAF shows no such generosity to other land managers.

Photo by www.flickr.com/photos/mollivan_jon/
Wildings at Craigieburn. Photo by www.flickr.com/photos/mollivan_jon/

The Department of Conservation battles every year to push back the spreading tide of wilding pines, spread as seedlings from poorly-located pine plantations. A lot of them are pinus contorta, written off years ago as not even useful for timber. They encroach on regenerating native forests and other ecosystems such as tussock lands and left alone can completely dominate. The problem is widespread east of the Southern Alps, from Southland to Marlborough, as well as in the Kaweka Forest Park (near Napier) and the Central Plateau. As well as threatening native biodiversity and iconic landscapes like those around Aoraki/Mt Cook, it has economic costs too. It reduces productive values of grazing land and, unchecked, will reduce the volume of water entering our hydro lakes.

However, controlling wilding pines on the 210,000ha of conservation land that is at risk is turning out to be an expensive job for DOC. On top of the cost of staff and transport and chainsaws and herbicide, they are now being charged a deforestation carbon penalty by MAF. Control of these weeds for the public benefit is being hit by the same rules as private companies who convert forestry to dairy.

For the first six months of this year, this cost DOC $811,000 – a large amount for a department that has already had its budget for this year cut by $13.5 million. That money could have saved some endangered species, increased the area of land under pest control,  or – got rid of more wilding pines. The irony is that DOC’s pest control efforts for browsing mammals like goats and possums increases (or maintains) carbon stored in our native forests, but they get no carbon credit for that.

Because of this perverse disincentive to deal with wilding pines, DOC has apparently suspended all wilding pine control; meanwhile the pines continue to spread and grow and the problem worsens.

If National wants to get just one thing right in its apology for an emissions trading system it intends to legislate for this week, they could stop this ridiculous attack on our conservation lands.

39 Comments Posted

  1. I do sometimes wonder about all the resources going into such ‘rectification’ schemes when they may possibly be spent more wisely in other directions. After all landscapes are changing inexorably anyway, due to all sorts of reasons, not least to misdirected human intervention. Timber resources that appear to be ‘useless’ now may in the future be proven usefull – for Biochar for example. What about a cost benefit analysis – admittedly based on current knowledge.

  2. I heard from someone who had done some research that they believed the Mackenzie Country was largely forested 300 years ago, and they thought fires probably from moa hunters wiped it all out.

    There are pockets of mountain beech around Lake Ohau, as well as totara and kowhai, though much of this is either in gullies or close to the lake so their position may help against the drought, heat, wind, and frost.

    Come to think of it, there’s also some stands of either young, or stunted manuka (i.e. 1m high) a few km away, but most of that was wiped out by frost a couple of winters ago.

    So with such a harsh climate on the plain, perhaps it might take more than a few centuries for the small stands of remaining forest to work their way outwards.

  3. “We’re almost resigned to conifers, which we didn’t want to put in. But without them, I don’t think anything else will survive.”

    It does kind-of make sense that you would need something exotic.

    If I understand correctly, the area has been grassland for centuries. If something native could colonise it, it would have done so on its own initiative by now.

  4. Thanks for that info – we used bagged manuka.

    There’s not much in the area that grows much higher than grass – just a few wilding pines, wild larch, and a few rosehip / briar bushes, and a few clumps of matagouri (and the matagouri looks like it takes a very long time to grow to a decent size).

    The lupins look great in the region in early summer, but DOC hate them (I remember once they wouldn’t stock a map at the Mt Cook visitors centre as it had a picture on the cover that had lupins in it).

    We’re almost resigned to conifers, which we didn’t want to put in. But without them, I don’t think anything else will survive.

  5. They make fantastic Xmas trees! last years was a Craigieburn special and the kids loved collecting them.
    If Pinus contorta is no good for timber it could be used for paper, fire wood, bio-fuel or new products based on cellulose to replace plastics.
    This could be a golden opportunity for sustainable management on a massive scale, and a very visible one to boot.

  6. Hey can I have them for free firewood for oldies?
    On the other hand. Can you make fuel for my car out of them?
    Trees are trees & should be of use for something other than wasting taxpayers dollars.
    What ever happened to Kiwi thrifty ingenuity?
    We seem to growing a generation suffering from profligate stupidity.
    We could make them compulsory Xmas trees.

  7. Thanks for that. We actually had some Alders on another part of the plot. The Italian Alders died, but surprisingly most of the Mexican Alders have have survived so far (supposedly they’re not so frost hardy, and we’ve had temperatures down to -17, -18)

    We had wanted a purely native patch, but I don’t think it will happen without some help from exotic species.

    We’re probably quite limited in what plants will work with a climate that is very dry and hot, with extreme cold and frosts, and strong winds in both of these conditions (that’s strong enough to rip tents apart, and destroy heavy picnic tables by blowing them halfway across the paddock).

  8. photo – did you plant manuka from seed or bagged plants? It makes a great difference. Manuka needs associated micorrizhal (sp) fungi for success and bagged plants don’t necessarily have it. Are there ‘invaders’ in the area? They’re probably the best plants for the job of..colonising. Ha ha. You’ve gotta watch ’em but there’s potential there. Shunda has a good suggestion in alders, but you’d need to trial them. Start smaller/more basic – perhaps tutu.
    You are starting with trees, but that’s not how ‘nature’ does it. Look to your leguminous herbs. I reckon lupins must be the buzz for your area.

  9. In buffer areas or holes in conifers plant larger beech trees (up to 2.0m) from local sources (suppressed trees from local stands)usually works. Try to bring as large as possible clump of roots and soil from the original source. They sulk for 12 months then usually grow quickly after that.

  10. Try a nitrogen fixer like one of the Alder species, being deciduous will also help establish some leaf litter (and they make good fire wood). Also make sure you use native plants from the coldest seed source you can find, for instance it will be no good using Broadleaf sourced from coastal seed. Check other conditions as well, as sometimes it can be a number of issues that cause failure.
    Most importantly don’t give up 🙂

  11. greenfly – manuka died even sooner than the beech, as
    did kowhai, kanuka, totara, flax, and several other natives.

    Of the small percentage of plants that survived (mainly some ribbonwood and pittosporum) most have died back a bit more each year – so they’re getting smaller rather than bigger.

    Any other ideas?

  12. photo and kahi – beeches aren’t colonisers. Start with something designed to cover exposed ground and work your way up. Manuka apea.

  13. We’re bordering conservation estate, so we don’t really want to be responsible for spreading more wild pines – does anybody know of an other very hardy fast growing conifers that won’t spread?

    Although there’s a pine forest with tens of thousands of trees about a couple of km away, so I’m not sure if anything we do on our plot will make any real difference in spreading wildling pines.

  14. I thought that might be the case – it explains why the Beeches haven’t come back of their own accord.

    I wish you luck with establishing them in the shelter of the conifers 🙂

  15. kahikatea – I’ve tried establishing a small patch of beech on a piece of land in the Mackenzie Country that has nearby stands of beech.

    However the climate is so harsh that pretty much all natives we’ve put in have been killed by sub zero temperatures over many days, freezing winds, drought, hot dry winds, or chamois and thar.

    While we’ve put in a big effort to try to get natives to grow, we’ve failed, then been slapped in the face by wilding pines growing right where our natives failed.

    I think the only way we’ll get out natives to grow, is if we use the shelter of conifers until the natives are established enough to provide shelter to each other.

  16. Jeanette, this is really not as cut and dried as you say. DOC’s campaigns against wilding pines are probably more often wrong than right.
    One glaring error.
    Sensible forestation of the catchments of the south island lakes would improve average inflows in almost all cases. Huge increase in storage and reduction of peak inflows as well.

  17. You are so right Forester. DOC are missing an opportunity here, but then they never have had a clue about forests. There is probably a stage in the wilding development which would suit indigenous seedlings of various kinds. If these were artificially seeded at the right point then the new forest would be a little bit mixed.
    Then there is the vital step of small artificial clearings after a few years to encourage an early second stage.
    Hey presto- new diverse forest. At very low cost, but then low cost and diversity are not really DOC’s thing!

  18. rimu wrote:

    > But under an ETS the govt is required to decide how many credits which industries get

    they don’t have to. They could sell the credits and let the market decide who gets them. But apparently business community lobbyists don’t want to let the market decide, because they can’t charge it to taxpayers if they do that.

  19. The idea of an ETS as opposed to a carbon tax is that it’s supposed to free the govt from making decisions about who pays how much. I thought. No taxes, the market sorts it out

    But under an ETS the govt is required to decide how many credits which industries get and what gets or loses credits…

    Damn tricky either way, it seems

  20. The answer to Trevor29’s query is that the Government made an election under articles 3.3 and 3.4 of the Kyoto protocol to exclude all forests in existence at 1990 from the country’s Kyoto liability calculation except if any of those forests are cleared and converted to grassland as has been the case with some of DoC’s wilding clearing programme.

    This election excludes the increment in carbon in those Pre 1990 forest from being able to be counted for Kyoto purposes. In my view this was a bad and unjust decision, but a logical one in context that at the time the Govt had no intention of granting Post 1990 forest owners their credits.

    If those forests had have been included there would have been a requirement to measure growth across the native forest estate. In my view would have been a good thing as it would both provide DoC with the wherewithal and the requirement to manage that estate better than it is doing so at present.

    DoC can earn carbon credits on land that in 1990 was grass land but now contains regenerating native and exotic species that can satisfy the definition of forest under the Climate Change Emission Trading Amendment Act. There has been no indication that DoC is aware of this possiblity.

  21. Great post forester.
    Common greenies!! This could be one of the greatest ‘green’ projects in our nations history! Imagine being able to re-establish 10s of thousands of hectares of forest to the Alps and other previously forested areas, and all we have to do is stand back and watch!. We could see the return of native species to land that has been barren for hundreds of years and ALL IN OUR LIFE TIME!!
    I know I am excited 🙂

  22. Why are DOC getting penalised for the CO2 released when these wilding pines are destroyed but not getting credited for the CO2 absorbed by the areas owned by DOC that are growing, such as regenerating native bush?

    If DOC establish native bush where the wilding pines are, then the CO2 absorbed by that bush should be equal to or greater than the CO2 released by the wilding pines, particularly if the wilding pines are destroyed before they get too big.



  23. Wildings provide valuable ecological, and now, economic services.

    Firstly they are only prone to colonize degraded range land such as shown in the above photo. Next they increase soil carbon, which is the cradle of soil fertility. Then they fill that cradle with nutrients mined from deep in the soil horizon. The growing trees protect the soil from frost heave, desiccation and wind erosion. Biodiversity is highly dependent on soil fertility.

    The trees increasingly overcome exotic grasses and their unholy servants, grazing animals, which are the ultimate antagonists to the regeneration of native plants.

    The trees attenuate water flows into creeks slowing the rate of aggradation and siltation, the two factors most damaging to in-stream values.

    Increasingly the trees provide a harbour for all types of native flora and fauna.

    Eventually contorta, in particular, succumbs to wind and snow creating an environment that closely resembles the periodic destruction that occurs in native forest. At this point, if there is a seed source of native forest species, they will succeed the wildings because this environment is now very similar to the conditions in which those species evolved (in stark contrast to grassland). If there is no handy seed source, these forests could be seeded, at very low cost, with native forest species allowing natural succession to proceed in the direction of a climax native forest.

    In other words, contorta could be used as a effect tool to recondition the soil and prepare the land for recolonisation by native forest species.

    The alternative is to continue the current fight against an ecological tide that can never be won. If is not pine, some other species will move in to fill the vacant ecological niche these degraded lands represent, such as gorse or sweet briar.

    On to economics; the 210,000 hectares of degraded range land susceptible to colonisation by exotics could be sequestering 30 NZUs/ha/year at $25/NZU this amounts to around $160 million/year or just under half of DoCs budget. If this sort money was applied to containing the pests that are destroying the native bird life etc, which are important components of natural forest regeneration ecology, we could go along way to restoring the health of the greater indigenous forest estate.

  24. Just to be clear.. What are you implying?

    That the GP wants to privatise (overseas) forests? That the GP thinks emissions trading is perfect? That the GP is dishonest in it’s motivations and intentions?

  25. Glenn

    Maybe so, it’s Shunda promoting beech. My angle is that rather than trying to stem the contorta tide, Canute, ride the wave and look for the advantages the infestation might bring. If beech won’t replace the pines, perhaps something else will, especially if the seed is introduced into the new forests by us, rather than natural processes. I think the idea that utilising a free resource that will plant itself has merit, in the light of our need to capture carbon. One concern I have is the use of herbicide that an eradication programme inevitably calls for. Already there has been a major stuff-up with spraying contorta and overspray onto the town of Athol. Management programmes that call for the mass application of cides of any sort from the air don’t get my support and have me looking for other ways to view the problem. I concede that I may be missing an important factor with contorta. I’d not argue the same way for old man’s beard or banana passionfruit (maybe). I note also, that there is work to be had in the self-sown pine plantations, cutting light wells, promoting the second stage of forest establishment. Those tussock landscapes are already heavily modified, though I admit they are biologically diverse and harbour some beautiful creatures. It’s all a matter of how you squint your eyes. And what about hieracium, hmmmm? Are those tussock lands screwed anyway?
    Apologies for the rambling delivery. I’m under pressure and have a deadline to miss.

  26. Ironic that the NZ Greens are so suspiciously silent on their position on the use of the REDD mechanism within UNFCCC.

    September 21st, 2009 was International Day Against Monoculture Tree Plantations and while the above article is written against monoculture destruction in NewZealand – thye Greens are quite perfectly accepting of the privtisation of native forests overseas so countries like NZ can purchase their way out of reducing their own ghg emissions. The REDD mechanism may very likely result in the replacement of gigantic areas of old growth forest in less-developed nations with monoculture desert.


  27. greenfly

    I don’t think beech will go along with pines, for a couple of reasons.

    1. Beech won’t like the high levels of soil acidity that goes with pine trees.
    2. I think the pine will grow faster and shade out the beech.


  28. I can see the value in gorse – it’s a legume that can come in at the start of the reforestation cycle, adding nitrogen and shelter for other plants.

    As for the pines, will beech forest re-establish faster if pines are part of the mix, or if pines aren’t part of the mix?

    I broadly agree with Shunda and Greenfly.

  29. Perversely, I’m with Shunda, but then, I’m a fan of gorse,for similar reasons – despite their being greatly despised, both plants are covering wounds to the land that we have created. The choice, as I see it, is to try, vainly, to contain ‘problems’ like these, or let them do what they are programmed to do, then take advantage of that.
    I’m not expecting much support from agencies, green or otherwise, for this view,

  30. Frog, native birds won’t find anything to eat in tussock land either (land that used to be Beech forest) The ecosystem of the eastern Southern Alps has been destroyed for a very long time, even wilding pines would be closer to the original environment than what is there now, and contrary to what has been said native species will inhabit the under story.
    And as far as Pinus contorta goes, it is only one of the species of wilding pines, at Craigieburn there are Larch and Douglas fir as well, and these species have very useful timber (and no preservatives required).
    By all means regenerating native remnants must be protected, but Beech will invade pines not the other way around as pine seedlings are not shade tolerant where as Beech are.
    Have any studies been done as to the possible management of wilding conifers as a resource? It may be time to change the doctrine on this losing battle and at least do a few feasibility studies on other potential uses. Think of the massive carbon sink these trees would create from what is already a man made tussock wasteland.

  31. Its a mix of removing pines to allow native forest regen, and removing pines to preserve high country tussock landscape. Actually, it’s also removing them to simply stop them spreading even further.

    The Govt can either exempt woody weed control from the ETS carbon liability (because it is a public good); or they could increase DOC’s budget to cover the liability. Jeanette notes that neither is being done, so DOC is being penalised unnecessarily. Hopefully, this will be fixed.

  32. Some of the land that wilding pines are taking over is regenerating native bush. Conifer forests cannot support as much biodiversity as native forests, simply because the plant species in native forests are the biodiversity. Also, many bird species (particularly fruit and nectar eaters) need native species – or at least won’t find much to eat in a pinus contorta forest.

    They do cover tens of thousands of hectares, but allowing them to continue to grow and spread will eventually see them cover millions on hectares – do we really want the high country overtaken by no-value pinus contorta? I’m not sure high country farmers would see it that way, let alone Kiwis who love the Central Otago tussock landscape.

    For some more info on why wilding pines are both environmental and economic problem see the PCE’s “Change in the high country: Environmental stewardship and tenure review” report, and the DOC wilding pine strategy.

  33. The Eastern Southern Alps were forested until recently in geologic time, so what is the problem in letting these trees grow?. We could soak up a massive amount of carbon from regions that have been barren and windswept since humans burnt the beech forest off.
    And these conifer forests support at least as much biodiversity as eastern Beech forest does, possibly more.
    I say let them grow and only concentrate control on high sensitivity areas, it is probably impossible to eradicate them anyway due to them covering tens of thousands of hectares.
    this could be an important resource for the future.

  34. If DOC is regenerating native forest on the site, it is hard to see how this is deforestation.

    If they are regenerating native tussock grasses from an area with established pine forest, then perhaps this will release carbon, so DOC should be given a larger budget to account for this (or almost equivalently, the cost of carbon to businesses should be increased, so businesses use less carbon, to make up for the carbon released from the restoration of our tussock lands).

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