The health of communities must be foremost when considering the sustainability of land use across Tairawhiti, says Federated Farmers regional vice-president Kerry Worsnop.
Her comment comes as concern grows about the amount of good farmland going into trees across the region.
Mrs Worsnop wants local farmers to support a push to local and central government against the afforestation of pastoral hill country.
Mrs Worsnop says more pastoral farmland will go into trees in the region as farms are sold to forestry interests encouraged by the ability to earn substantial profits from carbon credits under the Emissions Trading Scheme.
“In the North Island alone over the last few months, approximately 30,000 hectares of farmland has been purchased for forestry,” she said.
“In Wairoa, the rate of land lost from farming is estimated to be tracking at close to 1000 hectares per month.
“I want feedback from the farming community and the community in general on what our region should support in terms of sustainable land use going forward.”
Mrs Worsnop has made a submission to the Tairawhiti Spatial Plan (TSP) being drawn up by Gisborne District Council.
“It is my hope that if people agree with the sentiment in the submission they email me or text their name, address and phone number and I will add their name to the submission list.”
The Tairawhiti region is characterised by a temperate climate, fertile soils, steep and often erodible land and vast roading networks, she says in her submission.
“As the inhabitants of the rural and remote areas of our region, communities beyond the city boundaries have first-hand experience of the impacts of land use changes.
“Those who live in rural areas see sustainability as meaning that their quality of life is maintained in an environment of well-managed land and water resources, enhanced biodiversity and strong community ownership of communal assets such as rivers, beaches, bush and reserves.”
Mrs Worsnop says communities also rely heavily on the economic viability of land use to provide employment, social and recreational services and, for many, acknowledgement of the “special character” of their landscape.
“The health of communities must be the main consideration when it comes to determining land use.
“Land use change across the region should consider future employment, infrastructure and resource demands.
“Appropriate research should be undertaken to fully understand the regional demands on water, land, employment and infrastructure for the dominant land uses of the region — pastoral farming, forestry and horticulture.”
Mrs Worsnop says in her submission that diversification of land uses should be maintained and encouraged to promote economic resilience.
“Unsustainable land use — for example, harvesting trees adjacent to waterways and in severely erodible areas — should be phased out using a combination of regulations and incentives.
“The council should use all available policy levers to encourage sustainable land use and to protect limited resources for future use.”
High-value (versatile) land should be identified and protected, particularly on the Flats and high-value pastoral land, she says.
Areas of low forestry intensity should be protected from further afforestation until mechanisms exist to fully fund the increased maintenance of roading unfrastructure and offset the negative effects of displacement and unemployment.
“This would enable infrastructure funding to remain targeted.
“Mechanisms to encourage this could include zoning, or levies imposed at the port for ‘out of zone’ forestry, or rates differentials.”
Mrs Worsnop says native regeneration should be encouraged on land where farming and forestry are unsustainable, and the council should facilitate knowledge-sharing, management advice and the control of weeds and pests in reversion areas.
“The council should continue to support catchment-based initiatives which encourage local investment in waterways and natural resources through facilitation services and advice.
“The council should also advocate to central government in defence of its communities and land uses when central government policy fails to meet the thresholds of sustainability.”
“If people would like to make a submission, they should visit the Gisborne District Council webpage, under the Tairawhiti Spatial Plan, or contact me at email@example.com”