New Minister of Forests Shane Jones could prune out "shysters" buying small pine plantations, harvesting the trees, selling the logs overseas and putting the stripped land back on the market without replanting.
Real Estate Institute of New Zealand sales records for the three months to September 30 show eight Northland forestry blocks were sold for a median price of $1121 a hectare, down from $16,154 a hectare for forestry sales in the region in September last year.
The institute told The Country six of the sales were in the Far North district, one was in the Whangarei district and one in the Kaipara district. In order of size they were 12, 23, 70, 71, 112, 116, 284 and 284 hectares - a total of 972 hectares.
Vendors and buyers' names were not disclosed because of privacy rules.
The land, often isolated, steep and covered with stumps, would in most cases be very costly to clear for pastoral farming.
Mr Jones said that, during a pre-election meeting with Northland plantation forestry company officials, he was told about a network of "shysters" focusing on buying small woodlots, some paying cash and selling the logs overseas without giving local wood processors a chance to use them.
The minister was aware selling the woodlots was a priority for some landowners who had waited more than 25 years for the trees to grow and lacked funds to replant them.
But large forest company bosses were irked by the "shysters" whose activities they considered besmirched their industry.
Mr Jones said that during the election New Zealand First had suggested a tax on logs sent overseas. While this was criticised by plantation forestry companies, some officials had admitted it would clean out the "shysters".
The suggested tax was part of a political suite of ideas put forward by New Zealand First during the election and he emphasised it was not government policy.
The minister intended to get trees planted on up to 100,000 hectares a year to provide a carbon sink helping fight climate change, supply timber for the Government's housing programme and create jobs in the regions.
Northland has 11 per cent of the nation's forest estate and he was particularly keen to see this expand through forestry development partnerships with the owners of Maori land in the region "now growing tobacco weed and electric puha".
However, Mr Jones said it would be a challenge to motivate some young Maori who were "monaro", a Ngapuhi term for drifters or ne'er-do-wells.
To get them working to improve the nation, they needed to be encouraged to make lifestyle choices away from drugs, gangs and criminality.¦