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‘Beyond grateful’ for donation: Cash boost to help native forest regeneration initiative at Maungataniwha

Efforts to “recolonise” Maungataniwha Pine Forest in Wairoa district to natives have received a $15,000 cash boost from the Pan Pac Environmental Trust.

The Hawke's Bay-based Forest Lifeforce Restoration Trust (FLRT) started the regeneration project in 2008.

The forest covers an area of 4000 hectares and lies adjacent to the Maungataniwha Native Forest, a 6120-hectare swathe of New Zealand bush straddling the ridge system between the Te Hoe and Waiau rivers in northern Hawke's Bay, bordered to the north by Te Urewera National Park and to the west by the Whirinaki Conservation Forest.

FLRT chairman Simon Hall said the trust was “beyond grateful” to the Pan Pac Environmental Trust for the cash injection, which would go some way to helping to meet the costs of the project.

The work had been funded equally by FLRT and the Department of Conservation between 2015 and 2018, but since then FLRT had been carrying the financial burden of about $70,000 a year on its own.

Pan Pac Forest Products, a leading producer of pine products, established the environmental trust in 2019. It provides funding towards projects that benefit the environment and culture.

“The funding from the trust will be used specifically for clearing the regenerating wilding pines,” FLRT spokesman Peter Heath said.

Wilding pines are baby pine trees that grow like weeds from pine seeds in the soil when the mature pines have been felled.

“Once the area has been cleared the native trees won't face competition and can grow easily,” Mr Heath said.

Eighty years ago, the land was covered in mature native forest and full of kiwi, kokako and kaka.

The mature podocarps were logged and in the 1980s some 4000 hectares were clear-felled and burnt for the planting of pine trees.

In 2018, the trust took control over the fully harvested block from Rayonier Matariki Forests that held the licence to log the pines.

“The aim now is to re-vegetate the area with indigenous forest,” Mr Hall said.

While there were sufficient native species seeds in the soil to enable natural regeneration, some challenges included the cost for the elimination of regenerating pine seedlings that compete with the slower growing native species.

Mr Heath said the trust spent $70,000 annually to make sure the land stayed clear of wilding pines and ensure the native seed that was still in the soil can come up and regenerate.

He said the major costs included spraying via helicopter and manual labour.

“So the money spent is usually for the process of taking the wilding out of the soil. It's like weeding your garden but on a much bigger scale,” he said.

About a third of the area, 1400 hectares could now be described as clear of regenerating pines and successfully regenerated with native species.

He said for the regeneration, native grasses were grown first followed by scrub then trees like mountain cabbage trees and kanuka.

“So once these all species have recolonised the land the stage is set for larger stuff such as red and silver beech,” Mr Heath said.

He said since the clearing of regenerating pines was an ongoing process it was difficult to put a time frame on the project as it could take decades to realise it.

Pan Pac Environmental Trust chairman Reece O'Leary said they had received an application for the funding and as trustees, considered that application important.

“We thought it to be a great project and after receiving support from all the trustees, we decided to direct the fund towards the project,” he said.

Beside regeneration projects, FLRT also runs restoration projects aimed at boosting the wild-grown population of kākābeak, providing a secure breeding habitat for the whio (Blue Duck); and undertaking various pest control and eradication initiatives.

LONG GAME: Some of the regenerating Maungataniwha forest being monitored by the Forest Lifeforce Restoration Trust. It takes a decade to clear logged land of wilding pines completely and to get it to the point where it can be described as fully regenerated. During this time the land is nurtured, treated and monitored by the trust to ensure that the species they expect to appear do so. Picture supplied
:Maungataniwha Native Forest, inland Hawke's Bay. The Maungataniwha Native Forest.