Apr 16, 2011

New Zealand North: The Land of the Tree

SWoBs Down Under: Episode 1

Aotearoa here we come!

When someone mentions New Zealand, you may think of sheep quietly grazing green pastures, steep mountains covered in snow falling precipitously to the sea, forests filled with birdsong, and sheep. This is exactly what NZ is, and so much more.

NZ also has the most rainbows of anywhere in the world, its a fact.

SWoBs journeyed to the Land of the Long White Cloud to seek those greener pastures, and the empty point breaks along their shores. We also wanted to check out what makes NZ so green- not only the grass, but the people and the country itself.

Pohutukawa trees are awesome. A little trek up Mount Maunganui.

Oh yeah... there are waves too.

Arriving in Auckland we were met by our two friends Becca Davis and Sara Stuart. We proceeded to procure a deal on a relocation of an RV to Christchurch, recently smashed by a tremendous earthquake that left 10,000 homes condemned.

Livin' off the land- wild apples anyone?

Following the winds and swell, we went East, to the Coromandel Peninsula and around the East Cape and down the east coast to the southern part of the North Island.

A Maori Marae on the East Cape.

The first thing that struck us was how much the people depend on the land. Small farms dotted the landscape, cows and sheep quietly grazed, and forests covered the hills. We were sad to notice however, that the land seemed overworked and overgrazed, and the forests were a large part a monoculture of non-native pine farms.

Not even NZ is free from the threats of offshore drilling.

The Monterrey Pine (Pinus radiata) was introduced to NZ from our home, California, in the 1850’s for windbreaks and hedgerows. It was noticed that the trees grew straight and fast (7 times faster in fact), and had few pests in their new home. Commercial plantations were planted out in the 1870’s, with modern breeding leading to new cultivars planted out in the 1970’s.

Aubrey on a solid one somewhere on the North Island, can't quite remember...

Pine forestry is NZ’s third largest industry, amounting to NZ$5 billion per year and employing 20,000 people. Seven percent of NZ is planted to pine forest, or 1.7 million hectares.

NZ has an incredible amount of natural resources for such a small place and with so few people. Water and land is abundant, and it would seem that there would be no end in sight, and predictions are that the forestry industry will “grow” even further.

Paua (NZ abalone) thrive in the rich waters.
Silting of rivers from deforestation could threaten the sensitive molluscs.


What’s wrong with Pine trees you may ask? Nothing really. Yet like most issues, the devil is in the details

Pine Forest establishment starts out with spraying herbicides to create open soil from unused land or pasture, in both cases once native forest. Around 75% of NZ native forests have been logged, as NZ was renowned for quality timbers such as Kauri (Agathis australis), which fed a growing population in both the home country and Australia.

A common site on NZ roads, trucks loaded with pine logs.

Deforestation coupled with high rainfall has led to serious degradation of soils through erosion. Many sites were deemed unusable after slash and burn harvesting. Even today, the pine forest plantations are clear-cut, with resultant soil loss, which affects fisheries and groundwater reserves.


The common practice of harvesting pine plantations is clear cutting using heavy equipment which scars the land.

Often, pine forests are the only viable alternative to land-owners with degraded sites. Carbon Credits are sold on the open market to cover planting costs, yet the credits must be paid back upon harvest, so the credits are like a loan. Carbon sequestration is halted when the forest is cut, so it is debatable whether this is truly a solution for combating green house gasses.

Another empty one...

Another issue is that of genetic engineering. A NZ company was recently granted permission to plant a research plot of GM pines infused with the genes of the bacterium, Bacillus thuringiensis, or Bt, to combat insect pests.

This guy isn't too keen on genetic engineering...

The jury is still out on the positive or negative effects of transgenic organisms on people and other life forms. More research is definitely needed before releasing these genes into the environment. This also presupposes that industry intends to patent pine trees, making it illegal to propagate them, further creating an agribusiness monopoly.

After harvest (every 28 years), one third of NZ timber is shipped out via sea in log form, with a majority of NZ timber ending up in China and other Asian countries. It is estimated that almost 10 million cubic meters of timber was exported in 2010. That amounts to 250 million kgs, or 625 million pounds of carbon exported out of NZ, directly from their soils and air (click for calcs). Take that out of the carbon credit budget.

Logs ready for shipping out in Gisborne harbor. NZ supplies almost 2% of the worlds' wood supply.

So in reality, NZ is exporting a large percentage of their soils when they export wood. This further leads to degradation of soil structure.

Aubrey and Becca met up with their friend Niki in the surf randomly... small world! Niki is a local charger and environmental activist who lives on the East Coast of the North Island.

It is no doubt that most Kiwis would prefer to preserve and protect their land if given the option. People we met were proud of their country and were aware of the rest of the world’s view of their green islands. Untold economic pressures have forced people to push much of their land to the brink, and the future of their country may hang in the balance.

Its all about the set up...

We are not implying that farming pines is evil- it is far better than grazing or intensive farming. Furthermore, NZ is indeed better suited to growing wood than other countries, but at what cost?

The worlds’ demand for wood is ever increasing, and NZ is just supplying a need for timber to build homes in countries that cannot provide their own wood for construction. Other options exist, however, for both carbon credits and materials for home building.

Lots of wind turbines in the land of lots of wind.

We always try to look at both sides of the issue, and suggest solutions that are a win-win. Building from natural and local materials is always preferred to imported materials. Cob construction, building from the earth, is a viable option, even in NZ. We visited a cob home built in the 1850’s that is still standing and lookin’ good.

Cob house built in the 1860's.

If we promote truly sustainable building, we can reduce our need for imported and exported wood, and NZ soils and water reserves will benefit. Native forest that is not harvested sequesters far more carbon and provides many more ecological benefits like improved habitat for endangered species and groundwater infiltration.

Fortunately, there are several options for land-owners who wish to promote native forest regeneration. The Permanent Forest Sink Initiative creates funding for the planting of native trees, and several organizations offer services to sell carbon credits for native forests.
(click for video of carbon farming with native trees)

Sara, Aubrey, and Becca checkin' it.

New Zealand indeed leads the world in many areas, including environmental protection. Unfortunately the global market has made carbon a commodity, and financial gains often outweigh true sustainability.

If we can incentivize the planting of native trees, and also promote natural building, NZ and the world will benefit, as opposed to short-term gains that really benefit nobody in the long run.

The long walk to surf...

We finally made it to Wellington and parted ways with our friends Becca and Sara. Sara is looking into graduate schools in NZ for Environmental Science and Management. She works in Hawaii protecting native plants and birds, and has chosen NZ as a place to further her career in land stewardship.

Really crazy seaweed... full of air pockets like bubble wrap.

Nature has thought of it all, and never ceases to amaze...

SWoBs are now traveling to the South Island and Christchurch, which continues to have after shocks of significant size. We hope to help the people of this historic town in any way we can… stay tuned!


Links:
Carbon Credits from Native Forests:
http://www.nzgreen.org.nz/how_it_works
http://www.ebex21.co.nz/

Video of carbon farming:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zDcUJxuwQws&feature=player_embedded#at=16

Permanent Forest Sink Initiative:
http://www.maf.govt.nz/forestry/funding-programmes/permanent-forest-sink-initiative.aspx

23 comments:

simonseez said...

Great work on the pics and the info you guys. I'm really looking forward to following your latest adventuers. See you back in SB some day. Simon

permaculture.biz said...

You guys are amazing!!! So inspirational. Hope you can make it to OZ!!!

Munns of fun said...

Your pictures are incredible! Good work, so informative. I have been really interested in Cobb homes for awhile but, that blog sealed the deal!

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