Greg Steward has been celebrated for his resilience, endurance and passion for advancing New Zealand’s knowledge of indigenous forestry over nearly five decades.
The Scion scientist, who failed science and left school at 16, was farewelled by dozens of current and former colleagues at a special function at Te Whare Nui o Tuteata this month to mark his retirement - 49 years after joining the New Zealand Forest Service as a trainee woodsman. During the event, many people paid tribute to Steward’s expertise that saw him carve out a research career that focused on managing kauri, tōtara and indigenous hardwoods in plantations.
Steward was Scion’s longest-serving indigenous forestry researcher. His legacy will be built on through the work of other scientists who are now championing the value of indigenous trees for their economic potential and special timber qualities.
Despite entering retirement, Steward’s expertise won’t be lost after he has agreed to serve as an Emeritus scientist – a mentoring role that enables him to keep sharing his knowledge.
During the farewell, people remembered working with Steward in the field and shared stories about how his research had changed the way people viewed indigenous forestry in New Zealand.
“Through Greg’s research, we’ve been able to appreciate indigenous trees for reasons other than conservation; to make that difference is amazing,” principal scientist Dr Brian Richardson said. “It’s remarkable to see how that has benefited our organisation, New Zealand forestry and society.”
Scientist Dean Meason said Steward’s passion for indigenous trees and their timber was strongly evident.
“When you spent time with Greg, it was very clear that everyone looked to him for his knowledge. He was hugely admired by iwi and the community wherever he was. The findings of his research trials and papers will benefit us for years to come.”
During his career, Steward authored and co-authored papers on indigenous tree species looking at their qualities, and timber production modelling, with specific emphasis on managing kauri, tōtara and indigenous hardwoods for production.
In 2020, his contributions were acknowledged with a Science New Zealand Individual / Lifetime Achievement Award.
As a parting gift from Scion, Steward was presented with a carved hoe (paddle) carved from tōtara by Grant Hamarama Smith Marunui (Ngāti Hurungaterangi, Ngāti Te Kahu, Ngāti Rangiteaorere, Ngāti Rongomai, Ngāti Manawa and Ngāti Rangitāne) and Kawana Waititi (Te Whānau-a-Apanui).
General manager for Te Ao Māori and Science Services Hēmi Rolleston said he was privileged to present the taonga as Steward “rows off” into his next phase.
“A legend in indigenous forestry, Greg is a rangatira who has been dedicated to his work and is going out on top.
“Like the tōtara, he has weathered storms but stood strong and seen lots of growth around him. Because it is so highly valued, tōtara is a symbol of chieftainship and nobility in Māori culture, so it is very fitting that his taonga reflects those special values”.
“And just as the tōtara tree provides shelter for all those who seek refuge under its branches, Greg has been a source of comfort and guidance for many people at Scion over the years.”
Steward acknowledged the researchers who came before him and supported him, allowing him to grow and take on new responsibilities.
“The person I most want to acknowledge is Tony Beveridge who was a very kind and intelligent person – one of those old-fashioned gentlemen. He took me under his wing in my early days.
“He was very respected and knowledgeable about indigenous trees ... But he was always interested in our observations as younger people in the forests as he knew that how we saw things would add to his observations.”
Steward grew up in South Auckland and was first exposed to forestry at 16 when he joined the Woodsman Training School in January 1975. One of 50 trainees in his intake, he learned about silviculture with the idea that after three years, he’d be qualified to supervise forestry silviculture gangs.
His first two years were spent living in a hostel at Kaingaroa, felling trees and cutting logs. He said the worst jobs were planting young trees in the middle of winter or working in the nursery with bare hands during frosty mornings when temperatures plummeted to as low as -4C.
His favourite job was during his group’s first summer together.
“About 30 of us were driven out by bus to the middle of Kaingaroa where there was about 200ha of dry cutover pine forest. We were given litres of diesel, and boxes of matches and they told us to set fire to it all.
“It was a teenage boy’s dream.”
He was one of four trainees who, in their third year, continued their training at what is now Scion. The Indigenous Silviculture research group impressed Steward the most.
After completing his training he joined the group and worked alongside indigenous forestry scientists. They would spend the week in forests like Pureroa west of Taupō, living out of huts and sleeping bags, returning home at weekends.
“We were doing everything from indigenous production forestry research through to identifying reserves and mapping forest types. A lot of logging and planting trials; it was very physical work and I’d never been so fit.”
Occasionally, it could be dangerous work in remote forestry areas.
“You’d get the odd hunter come through poaching, most often during the roar. We were shot at by certain people who didn’t want us there.”
Having spent so much time in New Zealand’s indigenous forests, studying rimu, mataī, kahikatea and kauri, Steward has mentally mapped the landscape they grow in.
Even now, he can be shown a tree on a computer that has been assessed using LIDAR technology and, due to its shape or the way its trunk swells, he’ll know its exact location, he said.
As an Emeritus scientist, Steward will continue supporting the next generation of indigenous forest researchers.
After dedicating his life to his love of New Zealand’s indigenous forests – from his first days as a trainee woodsman in Kaingaroa, to being the driving force for indigenous forestry at Scion, Steward is satisfied that he’s stepping away from the coalface having left enough research for others to build on.
“There’s enough stuff out there now to go away quite confident that people should be able to harvest indigenous trees if they get good quality seedlings and look after them, that it’s something they can do within their lifetime.
“When I started we were talking in rotations from planting to harvest of about 250 years. We were trying to replicate the old forests because that’s what we thought we had to do.
“Then we started to do more intensive research. Now I would say relatively confidently that you can get down to 80 years, and with silviculture and breeding we can probably get down to 50 or 60 years to produce a harvestable tree and a useable product.
“We must unlock the economic potential of these indigenous species. In that way, people become more likely to invest.”
Young Innovator Awards return for 2023
The Young Innovator Awards (yia!) are set to return to the Western Bay of Plenty for the 14th year and registrations are open.
The programme, delivered by Western Bay of Plenty economic development agency, Priority One in partnership with local businesses and schools, challenges Western Bay of Plenty intermediate and secondary school students to develop and apply key skills such as critical thinking, creativity, collaboration, and communication.
It’s also an opportunity for local businesses and educators to help arm students with the skills they’ll need in a rapidly changing work environment while encouraging the next generation of innovative thinkers.
Priority One’s yia! project manager Meg Davis said it was exciting to kick-start the programme again this year after several years of Covid-19 disruptions.
“This year we’re planning to expand the programme with local schools, which could see over 1000 rangatahi experiencing innovation first-hand, embracing their big ideas, growing their skills in design thinking and resilience, and preparing for the future of work.”
Davis said the programme also had great benefits for sponsors, who could play a critical role in shaping the future of our community.
“By providing internship opportunities through the programme, businesses can pipeline talent early, inspire and influence the next generation, and gain a competitive edge in the talent market.”
Engineering consultancy company Beca has been involved with the programme as a sponsor for eight years and its head of new ventures accelerator, Jeannine Walsh, said participating in the programme as head judge in 2022 was truly inspiring.
“It was amazing to see the variety of ideas submitted by the students, from digital innovations to new products and services. The winning innovations were outstanding.
“We are incredibly proud to support young people within the region to develop design and innovation skills that will be invaluable in their future employment and will make an impact in their lives and the communities we live in.”
With what Priority One says is 40,000 new jobs on the horizon for the Western Bay of Plenty alone by 2050, the yia! Awards aim to instil the confidence and knowledge needed for local students to pursue exciting careers in their backyard.
Students can win prize money of up to $2000, as well as the opportunity to intern with partner businesses if a category winner.
Maketū iwi collective wins award for climate change plan
An iwi and community-led climate strategy designed to ensure the seaside village of Maketū remains steadfast in the face of climate change has won the New Zealand Planning Institute’s Best Practice Award in non-statutory planning.
He Toka Tū Moana Mō Maketū (Maketū Climate Change Adaptation Plan) is deliberately concise and straightforward, with the aim of safeguarding the future of Maketū's people, places and natural environment.
Its development was led by the Maketū Iwi Collective on behalf of the whole community, and released in December.
Petera Tapsell, the chairman of Whakaue Marae Trustees, said climate change had the genuine potential to disrupt whakapapa.
“Our rohe is already seeing the impacts of climate change firsthand with coastal erosion and inundation. We have to do everything possible to mitigate any further damage,” he said.
“We have developed this plan to support future generations, and so our future leaders can reference it as they continue the mahi as kaitiaki of Maketū.”
Due to Maketū's geographical position, the area has seen more frequent coastal flooding, including near Whakaue Marae, following subtropical storms. In 2019, large swells caused a landslide, causing koiwi (human remains) to tumble from the clifftop urupā at Ōkurei to the beach below.
The plan’s kaiwhakahaere (project co-ordinator), Roana Bennett, said it was a huge honour for the plan to be recognised by a professional body, such as the planning institute, and it was a credit to everyone who had been involved.
“In this time of great change, we need to guide our people through these seismic pressures to ensure the survival of future generations. As tāngata whenua, we have an obligation to care for everyone within our rohe, which is why we are helping drive this kaupapa,” Bennett said.
“This is a values-driven plan that ensures decision-making remains within our community. We’re so honoured to share what our village is capable of.”
First months of 2023 show challenges for retailers
A mixed performance in the first three months of 2023, and the end of the summer peak season, has produced mixed results across the retail sector and presents a challenging start to the year, Retail NZ’s latest Retail Radar report shows.
Retail NZ chief executive Greg Harford said retailers across the country have had a mixed start to the year, with many in the North Island impacted by weather events and the vast majority impacted by external pressures driving price increases.
The latest Retail Radar report showed 36 per cent of members met their sales target and 44 per cent did not meet expected sales targets.
Confidence continues to remain comparable to the previous quarter, with almost half of retailers not expecting to meet their sales targets in the next three months, the report said.
”Auckland’s flooding and Cyclone Gabrielle were significant issues, as the impacts of the lack of sales and damage to road and infrastructure were felt,” Harford said.
”External cost pressures outside of retailers’ control continue to drive up prices. Price rises are driven by factors like supplier costs, wage increases and increases in rent. Insurance price increases have also been noted as a newly building contributor to higher prices.”
But, he said, as expected and signalled in the last quarter, inflation continues, with 68 per cent of retailers increasing their prices in the last three months at an average of 5.4 per cent, down on the forecast 7.1 per cent.
Harford said unsurprisingly, given the April 1 minimum wage increase, the biggest issue facing retailers in the last three months had been factoring in wage increases, with inflation ad lack of consumer spending continuing to impact all businesses.
”All this contributes to 28 per cent of retailers being either unsure or not confident they will survive the next 12 months – similar to the previous quarter.”
Retail NZ is asking Kiwis to ensure they support local retailers and shop locally, or from a New Zealand website, throughout the coming months.
The Business Digest is compiled from press releases.