O Tātou Ngahere Conference Speech


It is an honour to be here today, sharing the stage with some of our country’s leading thinkers and experts on climate change and indigenous forest.

As Minister of Forestry and an advocate for our native forests, it’s fantastic to see people from across New Zealand come together to talk about the importance of weaving more native forest back into our working lands.

For many decades, our native forests have paid the price for progress.  A thousand years ago more than 80 per cent of New Zealand was forested.

Clearing of forests started when Māori settlers landed and accelerated when Europeans arrived.

This deforestation was done to clear transport routes, build our factories and cities, and create the export industries we have in the primary sector today.

The New Zealand Government recognised this was unsustainable, and in the early 1900s brought in protections and established plantation forests at scale.

As well as being the guardians of our country’s ecological diversity, native forests are a great long-term solution to carbon emissions. We cannot overstate the importance of our native forests.

We cannot opt out of climate change, and so we cannot opt out of climate action.

We need to mitigate the impact of climate change on our natural environment and the wellbeing of communities if we want to ensure a thriving, productive, and secure future for our country.

Equally, climate change will have consequences for our economic security. Left unchecked, it will have a significant negative impact on New Zealanders’ living standards and the vulnerability of our economy in the coming decades.

There is an old proverb, which many of you will be familiar with: "the best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The second best time is now".

There is no time to waste, and forestry and afforestation have an important role to play.

The critical role of forestry was recognised in Budget 2022 with more than $385 million set aside to support forestry initiatives. This includes a specific investment to help establish native forests.

Increasing demand for native afforestation is challenging. It costs more to plant native trees than exotic ones, and native forests are also more difficult to maintain due to introduced pests.

This is why our Government is exploring options to address these challenges along the full supply chain, to improve our knowledge and technologies that support the growing and planting of native trees.

Specifically, we have allocated $145 million to reduce the cost of growing native tree seedlings and increase the number available for planting.

As part of Te Uru Rākau – New Zealand Forest Service’s work to examine measures to build supply and reduce cost, they are also looking at ways to support research and science; build strong partnerships with iwi/Māori landowners; create a national strategy to facilitate the increase in demand and plantings; and build a better understanding of the native nursery sector.

Earlier this month the Government opened public consultation on how forests are managed through the National Environmental Standards for Planation Forestry (NES-PF).

This is about giving councils the ability to determine what tree is planted where, and to ensure that new forests are planted for the right reasons, in the right place, and managed in the right way.

It is really important that we get this right. The policy changes we make in forestry now will have implications for many generations.

This Government is also committed to enabling permanent exotic forests to transition to natives over time. And as such, further work will need to be done to determine the best way to achieve this.

The Government is establishing a group of Technical Forestry Experts including strong representation from Māori who will help redesign the settings of the ETS permanent forestry category, so it better supports long-term indigenous carbon sinks.

Planting trees is no replacement for reducing gross emissions. Even so, the NES-PF and the Emissions Trading Scheme still have to work together to make sure the settings are right for restoring and replanting native forests.

Supporting the Government’s long-term goal of enabling permanent exotic forests to transition to natives, I am pleased to announce a new project in partnership with Tāne’s Tree Trust to to support research to increase our knowledge and science around transition from exotics to natives.

Through its Sustainable Food and Fibre Futures fund, the Ministry for Primary Industries is co-investing to develop better science and information around transitional forestry that will be invaluable to land owners who want to see a native forest in the long term.

Forbes Ecology Ltd and Natural Solutions will have a significant involvement in the project, and I know they are interested in seeing exotic plantation forest owners across New Zealand participate in this research.

Researchers will be examining exotic plantations throughout New Zealand to build up a clear picture of the drivers that will make a transition to natives more likely and understand any roadblocks.

This research will support and inform the broader Government work to enable permanent exotic forests to transition to natives.

This Government is committed to working with the sector, businesses, and communities to support native afforestation.

I also believe it is vital that we start to educate the youth of today on the importance and value of trees.

That’s why I have reinvigorated Arbor Day since becoming Forestry Minister.

This has included supplying native seedlings to schools all across New Zealand, as well as educational material for students to help them understand the important role trees play in our environment, climate change response, and economy.

Our commitment to this is reflected in the partnerships we build with international and Kiwi-based environmental organisations such as the Trees That Count and Trees for Survival programmes, as well as with the international Arbor Day Foundation.

We have entered a multi-year partnership with Trees That Count to support schools to connect with native planting opportunities, as well as building relationships between schools and nurseries.

On top of that we entered a five-year partnership with the globally respected Arbor Day Foundation, which facilitates reforestation initiatives as well as supports ecosystems.

My vision for forestry, as I have said before, is to see a million hectares of land reverted to native trees over the next 100 years.

At a global level, there are truly massive challenges to saving our forests with competition for land and resources.

However, here in New Zealand, we have the opportunity to reach our targets through developing accords and financial packages which encourage and enable people to plant, revert or conserve native forest.

Tree planting, especially with native trees, is a proven method to slow down the effects of climate change and improve biodiversity outcomes.

The trees we plant and the actions we take now will influence our future.

I want to end with a whakatauki particularly relevant on this occasion: ‘Tiakina te wao nui a tane hei oranga mōu’.

Look after the great forest of Tane and in turn it will look after you.