Far North iwi are pushing back on the Government's proposal to exclude permanent exotic forests like radiata pine from its Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS), which stands to allegedly strip billions of dollars from the Māori economy.
The Government announced last month a new proposal to better manage carbon farming by removing future permanent plantings of exotic forests from the scheme by January 2023.
The consultation process on the matter ended last Friday.
The new permanent forest category of the New Zealand ETS currently permits exotic species including radiata pine as well indigenous forestry to be registered in the scheme and earn New Zealand Units (NZU).
The Government recently backflipped on this decision, however, claiming the new permanent forest category and high NZU prices could accelerate the establishment of new permanent exotic forests not intended for harvest.
To manage this risk, the Government said it was proposing changes to include restricting exotic forests from registering in the permanent post-1989 category in the Emissions Trading Scheme, which will remove the NZ ETS incentive to plant permanent exotic forests.
According to Ngā Pou a Tāne, the National Māori Forestry Association, the cost to Māori would equate to almost $7 billion and would remove opportunities for investment and participation in the carbon economy, regional and social development and environmental improvements.
Far North iwi Te Aupōuri agreed, expressing their concerns to Forestry Minister Stuart Nash who visited Te Taitokerau last Thursday, along with MP for Te Taitokerau Kelvin Davis and MP for Northland, Willow-Jean Prime.
Te Aupōuri CEO Mariameno Kapa-Kingi and commercial operation manager Penetaui Kleskovic advised the entourage that the extent to which these changes would have on their iwi and the wider community.
The meeting also included input from Iwi members who had worked in the forestry industry for several decades and who challenged some of the claims the Government was making regarding the impact on the environment.
"Te Aupōuri alone stands to lose $120 million over the next 50 years if this goes ahead," Kapa-Kingi said.
"Carbon farming is the gateway to everything we do and spills over into other opportunities such as providing Māori health initiatives and housing for our people.
"These changes put those initiatives at risk and get in the way of us achieving our preferred outcomes.
"Unfortunately this feels all too familiar and we're once again left to make big decisions quickly."
Kleskovic added planting radiata pine in the area had benefited the community in many ways.
"Our iwi started growing pine some time ago because being on a peninsula, it acts like a shelterbelt," he said.
"Apparently Minister Nash is concerned about the spread of pine trees, but given my whakapapa to Te Aupōuri, we are attuned to this and he is wrong to prevent us from using our land to economically survive and deliver for the multitude of owners.
"The Crown needs to respect our rangatiratanga and what we as tangata whenua wish to do on our own whenua."
During the meeting, Kapa-Kingi confirmed Te Aupōuri had received a commitment from the minister that for the next house sitting, the iwi would bring a contingent down to discuss the matter further with the Government.
Ngā Pou a Tāne chairman Te Kapunga Dewes said he believed it was outrageous the Government would back such a move to further suppress sustainable Māori economic development.
"The removal of exotics from the permanent category of the ETS will have significant, multigenerational impacts for Māori," Te Kapunga Dewes said.
"With more than 146,000 hectares of Whenua Māori suitable for this category, the opportunity costs for the Māori economy using the Government's own data add up to $6.8 billion."
According to Ngā Pou a Tāne approximately 55 per cent of Whenua Māori is currently in forestry, mainly because 80 per cent of Māori land is in the marginal land use category (LUC2 6-8) and large areas of land returned through settlement processes are in exotic forestry.
"In many cases, forestry is the only sustainable development option for Māori land due to its physical characteristics, and our unique ownership structures that make mortgaging near impossible, and attracting investment very difficult," Te Kapunga Dewes said.
"We want the option to utilise exotic species to both finance and provide a nurse crop to facilitate transition into indigenous high forest.
"The Government must work in partnership with Māori to co-design climate policies, including forestry and good management practices, that work for both Māori, and for broader New Zealand."
However, Forest & Bird are backing the Government's proposed new changes, saying the ETS should instead support investment in native forest and wetland restoration, which would provide much better long-term carbon storage than pines and other exotic trees.
"A native tree planted today could still be sucking up carbon in 800 years, but a pine planted today will likely be dead in 100 years and releasing carbon," Forest & Bird spokesman Dean Baigent-Mercer said.
"The Climate Change Commission told the Government native forests and wetlands are a much better long-term carbon solution, and Forest & Bird completely agrees."
Minister Nash said the issue of the ETS was admittedly contentious, so it was the Government's aim to listen to what people had to say and to try to understand the issues.
"I've heard the argument that the removal of radiata pine will be detrimental for Māori, so I'm keen for people to elaborate and to hear what they have to say," Nash said.
"I have potential solutions, probably not today, but let's have that conversation and see what we can come up with.
"I talk about where we want to be in 400 years, not just the next 100 years.
"In the end, it's all about balancing the production with conservation and maximising the value we can get from all land the best way we can."
Minister Nash toured Te Taitokerau last week as part of a Provincial Growth Fund update, visiting sites around the region funded by the PGF, including Kaitaia's new Te Hiku Sports Hub.