Ambitious tree planting policy lacking labour

The Government’s ambitious house building plans will be difficult to achieve unless sufficient trade labour is available, and there are insufficient numbers of experienced people available already.

The same problem faces another ambitious project – planting a billion trees.

Stuff: Labour shortage could create ‘significant issue’ for Govt’s 1 billion tree target

A shortage of labour and land could result in growing pains for the Government’s ambitious 1 billion trees programme.

Shortly after the Government was formed last year, it set itself the lofty goal of planting 1 billion trees by 2027 as a way to grow the regions, create jobs, offset carbon emissions, enhance biodiversity and reinvigorate New Zealand’s forestry industry.

The recent Budget allocated $258 million to the programme, and Forestry Minister Shane Jones said planting rates would increase from 55 million trees a year to 70 million in 2020, and 90 million in 2021.

“From there we will be aiming for 110 million a year over the next seven years of the programme,” Jones said.

However, finding people to plant trees let alone maintain and harvest them could prove difficult, he said.

​”We’ve got a challenge – we can’t find enough workers as it is.”

Forest Owners Association chief executive David Rhodes…

…said the 1 billion trees programme was “challenging but doable”.

A lack of labour would be the main thing holding the programme back, he said.

“It’s clear that there’s a significant issue out there and we are going to struggle to find the numbers. That’s going to have to be addressed or we’re going to have a problem.”

Unemployed people would need to be trained and migrant labour would be needed, most likely from the Pacific Islands, who had traditionally filled forestry roles, Rhodes said.

Horticulture already has a lot of trouble getting sufficient labour to pick things like grape and fruit, and to harvest vegetables. One problem is it is seasonal work, but another problem is that these jobs are often in more rural areas where there is little labour available and urban unemployed are unwilling to move to.

Forestry has a bigger potential problem, as most of that work wil be even more remote from civilisation and labour.

A billion or half more trees

National MP Simon Bridges has accused the Government of halving it’s tree planting plan. Yesterday a press release from Simon Bridges: So, half as many trees then?

Regional Development Minister Shane Jones is already backtracking from his promise to plant a billion trees in 10 years, National Party Economic Development Spokesperson Simon Bridges says.

“From his statements earlier today it appears he’s realised that the pledge of a billion new trees is entirely unachievable and now he’s attempting to back away from it,” Mr Bridges says.

“His problem is that the target is recorded unambiguously in both the Labour-New Zealand First coalition agreement and the Speech from the Throne on the new Government’s programme.

“Now he wants to count around 50 million trees that are already planted every year, about half of the billion he’s committed to over a decade. These are happening regardless of his slush fund or the kind of Government in power.

“So his first action is to cut his target in half. Not exactly impressive.

“He needs to immediately stop using his slogan of 1 billion trees to be planted because it’s completely untrue. He should also stand up in Parliament and correct the Speech.

“This backsliding is becoming a pattern for this Government. They want to count trees that are already being planted in their tree target and houses already being built in their housing target. It’s all very underwhelming.

Included in the Labour-NZ first coalition agreement:

Coalition Priorities

In this parliamentary term, New Zealand First has a number of priorities to progress which Labour will support alongside its policy programme. These include the following goals:

Regional Economic Development and Primary Industries

  • $1b per annum Regional Development (Provincial Growth) Fund, including:
    • Planting 100 million trees per year in a Billion Trees Planting Programme.

That implies a Government Fund for a Billion Trees Planting Programme.

From the Speech from the Throne:

The New Zealand Forestry Service will be re-established and located in regional New Zealand. This government is committed to a new planting programme, planting 100 million trees a year to reach a billion more trees in ten years.

That says “a new planting programme”.

But news reports had made it clear the plan was to double existing tree planting numbers.

Newshub on 25 October: Revealed: Shane Jones Minister for 100 million trees, $1 billion regional fund

Shane Jones will be the Minister responsible for spending $1 billion a year on New Zealand’s regions.

Newshub has also learned that Jones will also be in charge of the new Forestry Service, which will plant 100 million trees a year – with the goal of planting a billion over 10 years.

It is understood that about 50 million trees are already planted in New Zealand each year, meaning the new Government’s planting will double that.

That clearly says doubling to 100 million trees a year, or to 1 billion trees in total.

Labour leader Jacinda Ardern told the AM Show on Wednesday the fund will help grow the regions.

“Labour went to the election with a $200 million fund. NZ First came to us and made the case strongly for greater regional investment, particularly around infrastructure. So this fund will include, for instance, a number of regional rail projects,” she said.

“It will include an extensive planting regime for forestry. Our intention is to double the amount of planting that goes on in forestry right now.”

A clear statement of intent to double the number of trees currently being planted.

Ardern responded to Bridges accusations yesterday – 1 billion-tree aim ‘always a joint goal’

But Ardern told reporters yesterday the Government was never going to plant 1 billion trees on its own.

“We’ve always been really clear. We see a role for the Forestry Service to work alongside those in the private sector to ensure we’re supporting the planting of those trees.”

She pointed to Air New Zealand’s announcement on Tuesday to work with the Ministry for the Environment and the Ministry for Primary Industries to fund tree-planting over up to 15,000ha in return for carbon benefits.

“Overall our goal is a billion trees being planted. It would be splitting hairs trying to decipher whether or not that [tree] was solely Government [or] solely private sector … this is a collaborative approach.”

Labour and NZ First may be guilty of not being absolutely clear about their intent on tree planting in their agreement and in the Speech from the Throne, but it seems clear from other reports that they intended to double plantings to 100 million a year.

I think to most people both half a billion and a billion trees is a lot, and they won’t care (if they notice) whether it is a doubling of planting or additional.

Bridges needs to be careful he doesn’t inherit the ‘barking at every passing car’ syndrome.

On this he looks a bit pedantic and guilty of petty nitpicking.

Green climate policies – Green Fund and Zero emissions

The Greens have announced their main environmental policies that include Zero Carbon Emissions, a Kiwi Climate Fund and a major tree planting project.

Here’s how it’s going to work.

First: we are going to plant one point two billion trees.

We’re going to plant them in the cities. We’re going to plant them in the towns. We’re going to plant them in in the National Parks. We’re going to plant them in the regions.

That’s going to be tens of thousands of jobs. A lot of them will be in the regions. That means lower unemployment. Lower poverty. Lower crime. Cleaner rivers. More native species. It would be worth doing even if we weren’t saving the world.

A lot of them will be native trees. Native forest shapes the beauty of our country’s landscape.

Take a second, and imagine what returning another 4-5 percent of our country to native forest would look like. Where once you’d see erosion-scarred hillsides, there’ll be lush forest and bush. Flocks of birds. Clean rivers.

Take another second, and imagine how many jobs, in the regions, for young people, might be created through planting those trees, and then through pest control in those forests, possum trapping, and the like. Even through mountain biking and maintaining walking tracks.

Imagine a revitalised plantation forestry sector, providing enough wood for biofuels, high end manufactured goods and – yes – housing.

An admirable aim. Of course there will be a substantial cost. And it may not be simple getting tens of thousands of people to work in largely remote areas. It is difficult to get people to work on farms, orchards and vineyards now, and tree planting will be further from civilisation.

The next step is to get those emissions down. That means putting a proper price on the pollution that causes climate change – our greenhouse gas emissions. All of them.

We’re going to bin the Emissions Trading Scheme – a scheme that has seen hundreds of millions of dollars change hands, our forests get cut down and converted to intensive dairy farms and our emissions increase by over 21%.

The point of an ETS is to bring down emissions. Ours have increased 21% since we put the ETS in place. I can think of few more poorly conceived pieces of public policy than one that achieves the precise opposite of what is intended.

We say, tax pollution more, and tax peoples’ incomes less.

A carbon tax instead of the ETS is worth serious consideration. There is a lot of debate internationally about the pros and cons of both, and the effectiveness of our ETS is also debatable.

Finally – and this is the kicker – every single Kiwi over 18 will also get a $250 dividend bonus at the end of the year based on the carbon tax revenue.

That number would be higher, but we’ve got over a billion trees to plant.

I think a $250 bonus and the knowledge that you’re not going to spend your retirement in a climate refugee resettlement camp is a pretty great deal.

Money does grow on trees! Cash for everyone.

Green environmental policies have the wide appeal, but voters may not be listening to them much and more.

Shaw: The climate protection plan I’ve laid out today is incredibly comprehensive.