The forestry industry in New Zealand is in trouble. Forestry has always been one of our major export industries but in recent years, it has been declining. Nineteen sawmills closed this year, two in the last month. New plantings of trees reached the highest point in 1994 at around 30,000 hectares of new forests each year but today there is almost no new planting. This is serious because it takes 25 years for trees to grow before they can be harvested for timber or wood products like paper. The most popular trees planted in New Zealand are Pinus Radiata (pine tree) and Douglas Fir. They are soft woods which grow quickly.
About 70% of tree products are exported but costs of shipping have increased and demand has decreased as more and more concrete and steel are used in building. In New Zealand, where timber is traditionally used for house framing, the building industry is declining.
One of the reasons for the decline in forestry is the increase in dairy farming. Flat land in the central North Island is now more attractive for cows as export prices for dairy products have been so good lately. During the last four years, 40,000 hectares of trees have been cut down and not replaced. 11% of forests have gone, especially on flat land.
Yet there are very good environmental reasons to encourage forestry. New Zealand has about 830,000 hectares of steep hills which are not suitable for farming. Rain causes erosion on hills but tree roots hold the soil. Trees can stop flooding near rivers by soaking up water. Unlike dairy farming, trees do not affect the water quality of rivers. The central North Island has fertile land, high rainfall and a mild climate, making it ideal for forestry.
But more importantly, trees absorb carbon. This carbon is stored in the timber so that a wooden building that lasts 100 years still holds that carbon. Trees decrease greenhouse gases whereas cows increase methane gas.
There are social reasons for encouraging forestry too. Forestry provides jobs in rural areas where there are not many other employment opportunities. From growing seed, to planting, pruning, cutting down trees, truck driving, saw milling, and shipping, there are many jobs.
Another very good reason for forestry to continue is the possibility of using wood for ethanol in the future to replace petrol. Scientists are already working on this possibility, hoping that within the next few years they will be able to turn trees into fuel for cars. Then we will have to wait another 25 years for the trees to grow.