Forestry issue could become new foreshore and seabed - Māori leader

Māori say a standoff with the Government over the rights of forestry leaders to plant whatever trees they want on their own land has the potential to be the next Foreshore and Seabed controversy.

The Government is urging Māori to move from pine and other exotic species to native forest. 

But many Māori have already planted pine in response to the Government’s one billion trees target and are collecting more carbon credits from the fast-growing forests than they could with natives and they don’t want to switch.

 "What is going on, what is being proposed, we see as the Labour government's next Foreshore and Seabed moment," Chris Karamea Insley, Chair of Te Taumata said. 

Back in 2004 the Helen Clark government extinguished Māori customary title to the Foreshore and Seabed.

Insley believes there are very strong parallels.

"The Government proposing to legislate away the rights of Māori landowners to make their own decisions about what we can and can't do on our land, it is significant, it is a watershed moment for this current government if they proceed down this course," he told Newshub. 

Last week, Māori leaders and foresters met with Government Ministers about proposed changes to exclude the future permanent plantings of exotic forests like radiata pine from the Emissions Trading Scheme. 

It’s estimated if the Government goes ahead with the legislation it's a $7 billion loss to Aotearoa’s economy.

Already Māori are prepared to go to the High Court and the Waitangi Tribunal and various iwi are concerned that the change will breach their Treaty settlements.

"Part of the Treaty settlement was counting on this capability and this ability to sustainably develop the land with exotics in the permanent category to provide a wealth generation engine for their Treaty settlement," Ngā Pou a Tane - National Māori Forest Association chair Te Kapunga Dewes said.  

Since the Government announcement in March it has already wreaked havoc for Māori in the sector.

Forestry companies and tribes have lost millions with contracts put on hold, seedlings in nursery’s unable to be planted, and joint venture partners no longer investing in afforestation. 

Insley says a major agreement with emitter Sealord and Te Arawa Fisheries is now dead in the water.

"It took over a year to stitch together with Sealord, under the proposed scheme that project is dead. 

"And that just seems counter to everything that we are all trying to do in responding to Climate change. 

"How do we do all these things, how do we offset emissions, how do we create clean jobs, how do we clean up our rivers," he said. 

Te Kapunga Dewes said what has been taken away is the ability to develop whenua from an economic perspective. 

"And that’s what we are fighting for, the ability to awaken our long dormant lands."

Forestry Minister Stuart Nash and Climate Change Minister James Shaw both declined our requests for an interview. 

In a statement though both ministers shared the same sentiment of working through the issues raised by Māori representatives with interests in forestry.

"We had a positive and productive conversation, and no decisions have been made. We understand the concerns, and take our relationship with Treaty partners very seriously. As part of this we have agreed that a group of Ministers will work through issues raised by Maori representatives with interests in forestry as soon as possible. The details of this process are currently being worked through," Nash said in a statement. 

James Shaw added in a statement.

"Ministers met with a delegation of Māori landowners last week to discuss how we can work together to support Māori-led approaches to tackling climate change, while also managing the impacts of afforestation on both local communities and native wildlife. A range of issues were discussed throughout the course of what was a constructive meeting."

"No decisions have been taken at this stage, but the matters discussed will be given further consideration as part of Cabinet’s decision making process.

"A commitment was made to work together to find a way through the issues raised and I look forward to further engagement as we continue to deliver on our commitment to tackle climate change, protect native wildlife, and support local communities in ways that support Māori."


Forestry issue could become new foreshore and seabed - Māori leader