Keeping our forests clean

By: Patrick Cox, Photography by: Patrick Cox

Keeping our forests clean Keeping our forests clean
Keeping our forests clean Keeping our forests clean
Keeping our forests clean Keeping our forests clean

In his latest column, Patrick Cox talks about the importance of keeping New Zealand's forests clean

We've all heard the saying "Up creek without a paddle" and that's exactly where we are now in New Zealand, with the water quality in our creeks and rivers in a dreadful state.

As a nation, we should hold our heads with shame. Gone are the days when you could just put your face into a creek or river on a hot day and drink down a big mouthful of nature's champagne; crystal clear water that just tasted great.

Now the debate is raging again, dairy farms or forestry. How did we become a country that continues to repeat it mistakes? Back in the 80s, farmers were encouraged to plant trees on unproductive land. We cannot keep converting forestry into farming and expect our waterways to stay clean.

Who is responsible for this? The government should be the first to put their hands up. They have been in the process over the last 10 years of converting 25,000 hectares of Tahorakuri Forest in the central plateau into dairy farms. I logged in Tahorakuri Forest and the timber that came out of there was excellent, earned the country huge dollars in exports, and, if my memory serves me correctly, had been in existence since the late 40s.

Forestry is a great investment, and over the life of a forest, the returns are equal to investing in real estate or similar; the only difference is you have to wait 25 to 30 years for your return. Another option for investing in forestry is to buy shares in a block, which gives you the opportunity to sell at any particular time.

Here's where the frustration comes in. Farmers are major polluters of our waterways. There is no argument there, but why are they not made to clean up their act now rather than over the next 20 years? Forest owners are doing their bit for the environment as their forest is growing.

The trees are reducing carbon in the atmosphere until they reach maturity and become carbon neutral. When a forest is ready for harvest, resource consent is required and stringent controls are in place for the protection of waterways to avoid silt runoff, oil spills, or any other form of pollution that might be caused when harvesting the trees.

Are we just chasing a quick buck with our dairy industry and trying to satisfy the Chinese market at the expense of our once pristine water? Do we, as a country, want to be included in statistical information that an estimated nine million people worldwide died from air, water, and land pollution last year. Pollution is sometimes invisible or silent, but it is often incredibly deadly.

When you look at what is required when planning a forest block for harvesting, the mind boggles at all the rules. Unless a block is going back into farmland, within 12 months, there will be trees growing again, and it will not take long before all signs of harvesting have disappeared and the trees once more will be doing their bit to reduce carbon emissions.

We need to start planting plenty of trees, particularly around our creeks, rivers, lakes, and in our catchment areas. Auckland is a classic example of this. When we had heavy rains in February and the water that ran off was full of silt.

Forests should not be converted to dairy without strong controls in place before the first cow sets foot on the farm. The pumice country of the central plateau was excellent for growing trees. The technology we have today has enabled scientists to sample the land and identify what is deficient in the soil, so we know what fertiliser to spread, and here's where the problem starts—all these phosphates end up in our waterways.

Forests are not fertilised and so do not contribute to the problem. But we can all do our bit. Back in 2001, when I was living in Sydney, they were running a campaign, 'Don't be a tosser', on the radio every morning. What you throw out the window of your car today, you will swim in it tomorrow. It is so true when after a heavy rain in Auckland, most of the city beaches are polluted for a few days with what has been thrown out. When we walk in our stunning preserved native forest, there is nothing worse than to see rubbish.

There is only so much water in the world. It just keeps going round and round. The world does not make water. What we have is what we got and if you keep throwing rubbish into the pond and do not flush it, sooner rather than later, we are going to be
in big trouble.

We talk of global warming and this can only be attributed to the continuing deforestation of the world forest. Before the Europeans came to New Zealand, this land was covered in forest. What did we do? We cut it down, sold the timber, and turned the land into farms.

As the world population expands, the demand to feed people will continue to put pressure on the hunt for productive land. There will have to a balance between what can be farmed and what needs to be kept as forestland. New Zealand needs to be world leaders in finding this balance, just like the Japanese, who have become world leaders in developing water quality.

Our government needs to lead by example—spend more money on investing in forestry and stop spraying our land with 10/80 poison. Everything we spray on our land eventually ends up in our waterways. Take your rubbish home when you are out enjoying your tramping trip through one of our indigenous or exotic forests.

Remember it's up to you for trying to keep our waterways pristine for the future generations. If you are looking for a solid investment, think forestry.

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