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Rural boots to hit Wellington streets

Opinion Piece

The date is set and rural boots will hit the streets of Wellington on November 14th in protest at the Government’s failure to acknowledge concerns that rural communities have for their future under what many perceive as a wave of “rushed and poorly understood” legislation.

The landscape is now littered with legislation affecting rural landowners, with very few aspects of rural life left untouched by this Government in its fever to reform all and sundry before the next election.

The speed and potential for unintended consequences from proposed changes have increasingly drawn alarm from both farmers, regional commentators and even environmentalists in recent months, as the Government steamrolls ahead to progress both water and climate-related legislation.

With the Special Forestry Test expediting foreign forestry investments, cheap money washing around in much of Europe and a Government actively limiting farming options which intensify land use, all roads lead to further forestry, according to recent work by investigative journalists Kate Newton and Guyon Espiner in their articles entitled “Green Rush”.

Featuring heavily in the source material are references to farmland along the East Coast and in particular the case of Nuhaka farmer Will DeLautour, who sold his farm to a fellow farmer last year, accepting a sum millions of dollars below the offer from foresters. His view was that the foresters would never have been able to offer such a high price without the carbon credits. We will never know if he is correct, but the trend is there for all to see.

The scale and speed of afforestation in the past 12 months has set off alarm bells and spurred rural and environmental advocates Fifty Shades of Green to organise the march on Parliament. People are being asked to “March for the Future of Provincial New Zealand”, calling for politicians to “give farmers a fair go” and to recognise the risks associated with broadscale land-use changes for “carbon sinks”, and what this means for communities, our economy and infrastructure in the future.

Foresters will be weary of hearing the “noise” out of rural and farming corners, especially those in the bush who are just going about their business as they have always done. But many within the industry quietly acknowledge they are heading into unknown territory, with the carbon price playing a much larger role in investment decisions than before and the potential long-term implications of a high carbon price remaining largely unknown.

Employment in forestry relies heavily on the trees being logged for export or processed for lumber. At a high enough carbon price, the incentive to log would rapidly diminish in favour of growing out the trees for as long as physically possible and potentially leaving many of them standing indefinitely.

There remain huge frustrations at the failure on the part of Government to listen to community concerns over this and allow more localised decision-making on both water, the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) and climate change, with centralised “Wellington based” policy being expected to hit hardest in provincial NZ.

Iwi in particular should be concerned about proposals which would lock land into the current (or lower) intensity of land use under proposals in the Essential Freshwater report. For many with undeveloped land, the potential value in development may now never be realised. Extensive and low-input farming systems will be similarly captured and only those operating under higher-input systems (dairy or arable cropping) left able to access the improved profitability and flexibility well-managed land use changes can provide.

The proposed limitations on rural land users and the corresponding incentives being offered under the imminent amendments to the ETS (consultation is now open) are being described as combining to create a perfect storm for rural communities, the full impacts of which are as yet unknown.

With this in mind, Fifty Shades of Green is calling for support from all quarters, rural and urban, businesses and families, because to have any hope of getting this Government’s attention, farmers will need to show up in numbers and bring the urban community with them.

Event organiser Gwyn Jones has emphasised the importance of communities showing the Government who they are, the “human face of those effected by policy decisions”.

A petition with over 10,000 signatures will also be presented to Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones, calling for the Government to reject legislation which incentivises the blanket afforestation of farmland. The March begins at 11am, leaving Civic Square and arriving at Parliament at 1pm.

Kerry has written this article in her capacity as an environmental consultant not a councillor, and in no way does it represent any views of Gisborne District Council.