Shane Jones' visit to Rotorua today was all about "putting the pūtea (money) where our rhetoric is".

Hot off the back of criticisms over the proportion of native trees planted in the One Billion Trees programme so far (12 per cent), the Forestry and Regional Economic Minister was in town to back efforts to lift this percentage.

The programme is funded by the $3 billion Provincial Growth Fund.

Jones, iwi leaders, Scion management, and local and regional government heads gathered at the Scion nursery after a visit to Whakarewarewa Forest development, which is receiving $7.5m from the Provincial Growth Fund.

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Forestry Minister Shane Jones makes a funding announcement at Scion as part of the One Billion Trees programme. Photo / Andrew Warner
Forestry Minister Shane Jones makes a funding announcement at Scion as part of the One Billion Trees programme. Photo / Andrew Warner

Jones announced Scion would receive $422,500 for research "to ensure that the seedlings, and the science behind the seedlings, gives us better durability".

"So that not only is the vegetation likely to survive but its productivity is greater".

He reiterated the Government was "settled upon forestry as the key contribution to managing the costs of climate change and also to introduce better outcomes for biodiversity, and catchment management".

"I'm not a scientist, and by and large I don't associate with scientists. I am more interested in people who know how to make money," he told the group but said he saluted Scion's "very important" work.

"I genuinely feel this kaupapa has to outlive my role as a minister and a politician because if we are going to turn around our fortunes in the face of climate change we need not only short-term fixes but medium to long-term systemic transformational change."

Rotorua mayor Steve Chadwick, with Forestry Minister Shane Jones and Scion nursery researcher Craig Ford. Photo / Andrew Warner
Rotorua mayor Steve Chadwick, with Forestry Minister Shane Jones and Scion nursery researcher Craig Ford. Photo / Andrew Warner

Speaking to the Rotorua Daily Post afterwards, Jones admitted the programme currently "very much cannot compete with the ability of pine to reward the investors who are looking for carbon sequestration outcomes".

"The difficulty with overcoming the reliance on pine is that pine is fantastic for carbon sequestration, pine is fantastic as an industrial crop."

Under the Billion Trees programme, landowners are granted $1500 per hectare to plant pine, up to $4500 for native trees and in rare circumstances up to $7000 if there is a large amount of fencing involved.

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"We have massaged the various grants that you can get per hectare to reward people to focus on natives," he said.

Rotorua mayor Steve Chadwick, Bay of Plenty Regional councillor Lyall Thurston, and Scion chief executive Dr Julian Elder listen to Forestry Minister Shane Jones. Photo / Andrew Warner
Rotorua mayor Steve Chadwick, Bay of Plenty Regional councillor Lyall Thurston, and Scion chief executive Dr Julian Elder listen to Forestry Minister Shane Jones. Photo / Andrew Warner

Hemi Rolleston (Ngāti Whakaue, Ngāi Te Rangi and Ngāti Ranginui), Scion's general manager of Māori Forestry Futures, said his team's focus was on "more quality, more quantity, more affordability - to get more native trees planted".

He referred to the whakataukī proverb: "With your basket and our basket, the people will prosper."

Hemi Rolleston. Photo / File
Hemi Rolleston. Photo / File

Jones also visited the Lakefront. The Provincial Growth Fund has allocated $19.9m towards its redevelopment.

He described it as "a win-win" situation for iwi, the Rotorua Lakes Council, and the Pukeroa Oruawhata Trust's Wai Ariki Hot Springs and Spa development on Oruawhata Dr.

Jones warned that he did not want to see the project "ensnared in our Māori politics".

"I am learning the hard way that if we want public infrastructure and community infrastructure we've all got to do the heavy lifting... If there's not pragmatism, I'm finding projects just won't happen."

Conceptual impression of the Rotorua Lakefront development. Image / Supplied
Conceptual impression of the Rotorua Lakefront development. Image / Supplied

Jones also announced Crown Forestry would invest $5m into two joint ventures to convert 330ha of Rotorua and Taupō land to productive forests.

"The first joint venture is 194ha owned by Pukahukiwi Kaokaoroa 2 Incorporation while a further 141ha is owned by Waipapa 2B2 Ahu Whenua Trust.

"Up to 235,000 trees will be planted on these two properties this season, with land preparation now under way."

He also announced a $15m loan from the fund for Geo40 Limited's large scale extraction plant at the Ohaaki geothermal site near Taupō and a $7m loan for Eco Gas Ltd Partnerships to build a demonstration biogas plant in Reporoa.

"The facility will take more than 20,000 tonnes of organic food waste a year from major local food manufacturers such as dairy factories, commercial bakeries, cool stores, milk sheds and fruit grading facilities to convert into biogas."