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Study has implications for biodiversity/climate change policy

Published: Sun 15 Jul 2018 06:53 PM
Farm forestry study has implications for biodiversity/climate change policy
This report was first published in the Energy and Environment bulletin on July 11
A study has estimated nearly a quarter of NZ’s native vegetation is on sheep and beef farms as the planned work programme on developing a National Policy Statement on Biodiversity comes to an end.
A report from the University of Canterbury, commissioned by Beef + Lamb NZ, says 24% of native vegetation cover (approximately 2.8 million hectares) and 1.4m hectares of native forest is on sheep and beef farms.
The report was done by Professor David Norton from the University of Canterbury’s School of Forestry. Supported by Auckland University of Technology staff, the report used satellite imagery to assess the amount of native vegetation, focusing on native forest, occurring on sheep and beef farms.
“The 2.8m hectares of native vegetation on sheep and beef farms are critical for biodiversity conservation on farms and for landscape-level biodiversity outcomes. This finding is particularly important in places where there is little native cover remaining, like those in lower altitudes, on more gentle slopes, and in drier regions,” says Professor Norton.
Beef and Lamb CEO Sam McIvor says the report highlights not only the role sheep and beef farms currently play in contributing to biodiversity, but also helps identify opportunities to build on this.
The report comes as a group tasked with drafting a draft National Policy Statement on Indigenous Biodiversity comes close to the deadline set for its work to end. The Biodiversity Collaborative Group of stakeholders is funded by the Ministry for the Environment to develop national-level policy for indigenous biodiversity. When it was announced the group's process was anticipated to run over 18 months until around August 2018.
Members of the Biodiversity Collaborative Group include representatives from Forest & Bird, Federated Farmers, Iwi Leaders, Forest Owners Association, Environmental Defence Society and a representative from the infrastructure/ extractive industry.
The then Environment Minister Nick Smith said clear national guidelines on protection of areas of significant indigenous vegetation and significant habitats of indigenous fauna were a priority, though previous forays into the issue have run into problems. These have included the rights of landowners over land use and just how to identify, class and regulate private land. Smith hoped a collaborative approach like the Land and Water Forum might partially solve these problems.
The Group has been meeting regularly on the issue despite a low profile. It held two meetings in June with the focus shifting from gathering evidence to developing policy. In March it met with Associate Minister for the Environment, Eugenie Sage, to discuss the Group’s scope of work and programme.
The farm forestry report is also relevant to climate change policy. Much of the 1.4 million hectares of native forest will be sequestering carbon and most of this is unlikely to be counted in the current Emissions Trading Scheme. Some have argued such forests should count in an ETS, but as they almost certainly predate 1999 they did not count under the Kyoto rules. The forestry accounting rules under the Paris Agreement have yet to be agreed.
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