Politics and forestry – new bedfellows?

Here in New Zealand, for the past 20 years forestry and politics have rarely been found in the same sentence, let alone paragraph.

 

There was a clear separation following government forestry asset sales in the late 1980s and early 1990s, which led to a clear commercial focus replacing the previous, wider objectives of the NZ Forest Service.

 

Now, it is possible that the MMP coalition, will reconsider government’s role in forestry through common policies to intervene in the forestry sector to achieve some of those wider objectives once again,  Much of the political campaigning has comprised rhetoric rather than fact, so it is an opportune time to review some of the key factors motivating previous governments to get out of forestry as we await news on how it will be treated under the new administration.

 

Devolving forest ownership through privatisation in New Zealand (Source: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, fao.org) Between 1990 and 1992 the government sold more than 350,000ha of planted forests to the private sector. An additional 188,000ha of government-owned forests were sold in 1996.

 

From Government Agency to Corporation From 1919 to 1987, the government's forestry operations were run by a single agency, the New Zealand Forest Service. The department's governing legislation of 1949 established its primary objective to produce and market forest products profitably. This objective was amended in 1976 to take other factors into consideration, including policies and directives to undertake afforestation in regions requiring economic development, employment provision, utilisation of low productivity land and respect of planting targets and environmental objectives.

 

By the mid-1980s, a number of converging factors suggested it was time for the government to rethink how it managed its forestry assets:

• A surge in the supply of wood from the forests was forecast for the 1990s, and a more commercial operating environment was regarded as necessary to maximise returns; this would require downstream investments

• The environmental movement was seeking to ensure that the government broadened its focus to consider not only wood supply, but also other aspects of sustainable management, including environmental issues

• The government's economic policy was to deregulate industries and thereby expose business enterprises to the pressures of a competitive environment for efficiency

• As a subset of the above, government policy was to clarify organisational objectives and thereby enable transparency and accountability...

 

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