The coalition government’s commitment to planting 1 billion trees in the next decade, and relocating the head office of a new ministry of forestry in Rotorua, have drawn wide attention in the region and generally been welcomed across the sector.
The new ministry will be made responsible for developing and implementing a wide-ranging and comprehensive national forestry strategy. But it remains unclear exactly what form the new forest service will take and how it will operate.
And wide-ranging interviews with industry sources indicate there will be a number of key challenges for the ministry to grapple with, including the availability of land and labour, and ongoing tensions between some of the wood processing, and log exporting sectors of the industry.
Julian Elder, chief executive of Rotorua-based Forest Research Institute Scion, said he was heartened by the focus put on forestry by the new government.
“Scion has just celebrated its 70th year providing science to the forestry sector and we are excited about the opportunity that forests, trees and bioproducts offer for New Zealand,” he said.
“Rotorua is the hub of New Zealand forestry, and the Scion campus alone has 28 entities operating here. Establishment of a Forest Service to enable more trees to be planted and to help people do it right would benefit most from being located in Rotorua.”
New Zealand Forest Owners Association chief executive David Rhodes said it would be a while before the new forestry ministry emerged and the industry saw what shape it would take.
From an industry perspective, there was definitely a crucial role for the training and advisory work that used to be carried out by the old NZ Forest Service.
“I think they’re going to be pretty crucial,” he said.
Bryce Heard, chairman of the Central North Island Forestry and Wood Group, says relocating the ministry to Rotorua would be good for the region, and could also be expected to result in improved air services to Rotorua, particularly into Wellington.
“There are benefits in having your operational people reasonably close to the action,” he said. “Rotorua is the hub of the industry. But we don’t know yet what shape or form the ministry’s going to take.”
Marty Verry, chief exectutive of one of the industry’s most advanced wood processing companies Red Stag Timber, said he understood the ministry concept was to imbed a tranche of the bureaucracy in the industry to get real collaboration and mutual understanding going so all parts of the sector could start working properly together on outcomes.
Verry said the timber processing side of the industry would like to see building industry regulation of the quality and treatment of timber products brought back within the forestry service.
“There’s bit of a wild west at the moment with the building industry,” he said, adding that it had been a mistake to bring building and construction within the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment.
Rotorua Mayor Steve Chadwick said the council was interested to see how it could support the government’s intention to base a ministry of forestry in Rotorua.
“It would obviously be a good fit for our district,” she said.
“However, we don’t yet have a clear picture of what it will involve and therefore what it could mean for Rotorua or the wider Bay of Plenty. We have no detail yet so we look forward to discussing it with [Forestry Minister Shane Jones] as soon as possible.”