Push for Government to permanently halt planting exotic trees and restore native forests

There's a push for the Government to permanently halt the planting of exotic forest to earn carbon credits in an area devastated by flooding and erosion.

But there are questions over the economic feasibility of restoring permanent native forests.

Ruatoria locals dream of a future where their erosion-prone hills are blanketed in puriri, totara, kahikatea and titoki.

"If we want a chance to try and save our lands for the future, for our next generations, it's like we have to be looking to put trees back where Mother Nature meant them to go," said Tikapa Organics owner Len Atkins.

What will be left for his mokopuna is front of mind for Barry Soutar - a trustee on a 130-hectare block in Ruatoria that's slipping into the stream below with each new downpour.

"You have to question your obligation to your people and your culture and your country when you as an ancestor are not leaving a legacy for your descendants," the Totaranui Nama Ono/Te Pa o Penu trustee said.

Their whenua has suffered in recent storms. Pine forests, with their shallow root systems are contributing to erosion and devastation.

"There's no argument anywhere for pine," Soutar said.

Stock has been run on their block for almost a century. The trustees of this block were offered a joint venture by Crown Forestry to plant pine.

"And they said 'no, we want natives to be going onto the land'," said land use researcher Manu Caddie.

"So they're looking for ways to fund that to get both plants in the ground and natural regeneration, but also pest control, which is all very expensive but it's really the only option for the land."

This is just a small stream but consecutive intense weather events have seen excessive water come down from the hills above. Now this could be stopped by native planting to hold the land in place.

Consultation on which forests should be allowed to earn carbon credits and how exotic forests could be transitioned to native is underway.

"We shouldn't even be using exotic forest as permanent and instead we need to put in place incentives that make it financially worthwhile for farmers for landowners, for iwi to plant native forests," forest ecologist David Norton said.

The problem is native forest is slow-growing and transitioning is expensive and unproven. Manu Caddie points out that Aotearoa has committed to spending billions in offshore carbon credits to meet emissions targets.

"I think if we're going to do it anywhere, it should be happening here so we'd like to see the billions of dollars being committed for that, to be spent in places like this," Caddie said.

Tikapa Organics nursery just received $300,000 from the cyclone recovery fund to plant native trees.

A big win, but it's going to take much more than a one-off payment to return these crumbling hills to healthy, native forest.