Right Tree Right Place research triggers passionate debates

The Tararua District’s landscape is changing rapidly and afforestation is one of the major changes we see.

With co-funding from Te Uru Rākau / Ministry of Primary Industries, Council commissioned a study to look at the current and future impacts of afforestation in our district.

One piece of research in the study focuses on social impacts associated with the rapid land use change; what `Right Tree, Right Place' means to locals; what opportunities afforestation could bring to local people and the relationship between afforestation and tourism.

The peer reviewed research has focused on understanding both sides of the story as this is the key to a balanced and informed debate that Council wishes to have. Understanding the direct and wider impacts of afforestation in our district will help Council to make decisions about Tararua’s future. The report says that the discussion appears to be about which tree to plant where, but is in fact more about land use change and what is considered to be effective land use.

The research was conducted by two researchers who have a profound understanding of the Tararua district. Social scientist Dr Heather Collins undertook her PhD in Agriculture and Environment in the Tararua District, and Massey graduate Angela McFetridge grew up on a farm in the Pongaroa area. Both toured around Tararua to gather views and perspectives from residents, iwi representatives, businesses, contractors, Year 12 and 13 students, farmers, foresters and forest managers.

According to the study, participants are “aware of and accept that land use change may occur in some form, but the pace of change, a perceived loss of control over the change and its unintended impacts are of concern to the community.” They feel that change is happening to them, not with them. A loss of connection to people and place was described as generation old farms were being converted to pine plantations.

“Carbon farming is perceived to reduce opportunities for current and future generations, and in many ways, signals a loss of community. As one participant described: ‘a community can’t be built around carbon farming.”

More common concerns were raised about issues that lie at the heart of our rural communities such as; loss of jobs on farms, people leaving the area, less income for local businesses that support farming, closure of local stores, the increasing risk of fire and pests, increased levels of pollen in the air, and the future of local schools.

School children also shared their visions for `Right Tree Right Place'. They hoped that forestry decisions would retain opportunities for future generations, that landscapes will be rich and diverse, include the planting of native species and acknowledged that climate change will change the future environment.

Positive impacts of afforestation were also described by some research participants including “increased short-term business for local food and accommodation providers, pastoral farmers being able to realise their asset and exit with dignity; soil stabilisation and other environmental benefits; and rotational forestry contributing to increased socio-economic growth from increased employment, potential wood processing businesses, and the flow-on benefits to the local community.”

Tararua District Council Mayor Tracey Collis says: “There are so many elements currently coming at our communities. It’s a lot to cope with and that’s reflected in some of the passionate views expressed by the interviewees in the report. Part of this research is trying to gauge what the communities want their future landscape to look like and what is viable. Effective, efficient and best use of land will encourage vibrant communities.”

Mayor Tracey continues: “Council is not against forestry; we’re not looking to stop it because forestry is part of our history and who we are. What we are concerned about is the rate and type of change experienced with carbon forestry. Only when we understand both sides of the story and what works for all parties, will we be able to ensure the best outcomes for our district.”

This study is one component of the `Right Tree, Right Place' project, further information to understand what land change could mean to the district is currently being finalized and will be presented to Council soon. Findings of the report will also be used by Council to prepare key policy documents about Tararua’s future, such as the District Strategy, the Growth Strategy, and the Housing Strategy. The report will be available on Council’s website in due course, and depending on Alert Levels, a public workshop will be held.