The owners of two Whanganui forests are frustrated by the difficulty of getting their trees registered in New Zealand's Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS).

Neil Walker wants to plant eucalypts on steep land in the Waitotara Valley. If he is in the ETS he can get paid for carbon the trees store.

The owners of Shellwood Forest, on Wairangi Station in Kauarapaoa Rd, joined the ETS in 2011, when 158ha of their pine forest was considered eligible. They left it in 2013, applied to rejoin in 2016 and have been told only 27ha is eligible now.

Read more: Waitotara landowner's forestry plans frustrated by red tape

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Mr Walker is annoyed the assessors, Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) staff, will not tell him whether his land is eligible for the ETS before he starts planting it. They can't because under the Climate Change Response Act assessment can only be done after the land has been planted.

Shellwood Forest co-owners Sid Soulsby and Tom Clarkson would like the option to leave some of their pine forest unharvested and get paid for the carbon the trees store. They are shocked to find 83 per cent of the forest is no longer considered eligible.

Eligibility to join the scheme depends on the vegetation on the land on December 31, 1989. If it was in forest it will not be eligible, and the definition of forest is a complex one.

The usual means of determining whether forest was present at that time is by looking at aerial and other photographs taken then.

The foresters say the difficult ETS entry process will put landowners off. They say Regional Development Minister Shane Jones has no chance of getting a billion trees in the ground in 10 years with MPI in the way.

Yet forestry is the most immediate means New Zealand has of offsetting its carbon emissions and meeting its international obligations, Forest Owners Association president Peter Clark says.

The former Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, Dr Jan Wright, found forests can offset New Zealand's emissions from livestock on a scale no other current technology can manage.

"In an almost literal sense trees give us breathing space until the less emissions-intensive technologies and land-use practices are adopted," Mr Clark said.

New Zealand should have been planting more trees and growing the national forest estate for the last 10 years, he said.

"That was a missed opportunity."