Forest area gets smaller again

The amount of forest in New Zealand has shrunk for a second year in a row.

A report from the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry also says that a third of forests being clear-felled - about 12,900ha - are not being replanted.

Most of the "deforestation" is occurring in the Central North Island, the region where huge plantation forests have sold in recent years in billion-dollar deals, and in Canterbury.

The National Exotic Forest Description (NEFD) database report said planted production forests cover an estimated 1.80 million hectares - 70 per cent of which are in the North Island.

MAF principal adviser Paul Lane said the trend of not replanting after harvesting was continuing and in some cases the land was being converted to pasture.

The data is likely to reinforce the forestry lobby's anger that the government has "stolen" Kyoto credits.

Forest owners have also argued that forests planted before 1990 are being harvested early because owners are worried they will be hit with a liability under the Kyoto regime.

Some in the industry question whether the Central North Island, where large scale sustainable forestry was pioneered in this country, will continue to be a major forestry region. But some of the specialist US-based timber investment funds that have bought forests in the region have said that it will.

"New Zealand has always had dynamic landscape, so changes in land use are not unusual," said Mr Lane.

However, he said that up until 2004 it was unusual for plantation forests to be cleared.

The NEFD report is produced in partnership with the New Zealand Forest Owners' Association and the New Zealand Farm Forestry Association.

Radiata pine is still dominant species, making up 89 per cent of the planted forest area, with Douglas-fir the next most common species, making up 6 per cent. The balance comprises other softwood and hardwood species.

- NZPA

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