Forest (Photo: Neil Silverwood)

Mana whenua around the country are thinking about ways of restoring the mauri of the whenua they are responsible for. The option of planting trees as permanent carbon sinks has great attraction. It would help mitigate the climate crisis by taking carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, while at the same time providing mahi on tribal whenua.

Currently there are barriers, but if enough people make submissions over the next few days supporting a native planting policy, those barriers could be lifted. Darren van Hoof, conservation manager for Forest and Bird in the Hawkes Bay, Gisborne and Bay of Plenty rohe, explains what needs to happen.


Māori have always understood that the ngahere has benefits to all aspects of life. A big opportunity for Aotearoa is based around capturing carbon with rākau — and using native species for that purpose seems like a no-brainer.

But the current problem is that planting with exotic trees like pines is easier and more financially beneficial in the short term. It takes only five years after planting pines as permanent carbon sinks to start getting a financial return. If native rākau are planted, payments will come in many years after they would for pines.

Yet in the long term, native forests are much more sophisticated carbon sinks than pine plantations, because not only do the trees grow for much longer than pines do, but there are an array of shrubs, smaller trees, ferns, vines, and so on, in a native understorey, so more carbon is locked into the ngahere and there’s more kai for manu.

Out of financial necessity, some whānau, hapū, tribal interests are planning to plant pines as permanent carbon sinks, although this is not what they would prefer to do.

The problem could be corrected if the government subsidised the costs of planting native species, to achieve financial parity with pines.

There is another important reason why government should incentivise the planting and care of native trees. Forest and Bird has identified that existing native forests are stressed and sick. They are loaded with possums, deer, goats, wallabies and pigs, all of which take a toll on forest health. Many ngahere have become weak carbon sinks or have flipped to become net releasers of carbon dioxide as they collapse.

The climate is in trouble, and so are native wildlife, plants and waterways.

Is it possible to come up with a way forward that could help all these kaupapa together, ensuring future generations can prosper? We think there could be win-win-win solutions.

Across Aotearoa, there is at least one million hectares of marginal and erodible whenua that could be planted in native species. The government is currently calling for submissions on the national Emissions Reduction Plan. The Emissions Reduction Plan will be the blueprint for how, across Aotearoa, we will reduce climate pollution from power generation, factories, cars, and will also include how we create new carbon sinks and keep existing sinks such as native forests healthy, to lock in as much carbon as possible.

If the government gets the incentives right, the opportunity is there for planting huge areas in native species, controlling pests such as possums, deer, goats, wallabies and pigs, and returning some of what has been lost: rongoā, clean water, stability from erosion and ecological flourishing of the ngahere. In time, manu such as kīwī could be returned to local whenua.

If you share this vision, we urge you to take a few minutes to write a short submission. Your whakaaro will help ensure that mana whenua are at the forefront of helping reduce the impact of the climate crisis while creating employment within their rohe.

We encourage your voice to be heard at this crucial time, and it’s as easy as clicking this link. But you need to be quick: the deadline for submissions is in three days’ time: 24 November.

You don’t have to be an expert to submit, and we think that the voice of people who understand the whenua is the most important voice there is. The process is easy and could have a massive impact on our future.

Here are a few questions from the submission website that we have given some easy starting points for a response:

What do you think are the most important things to be considered in the development of the emissions reduction plan?

That government subsidises the costs of replanting native species for the initial stage of establishment so it is financially equal with pines.

What new initiatives would you include in an emissions reduction plan for Aotearoa?

Help facilitate landowners to plant natives by providing both financial and technical support around the country.

What do you see are the main opportunities and impacts of emissions reduction policies in Aotearoa?

There’s a huge opportunity to restore the mauri of the whenua and have a positive impact on tangata, te taiao and our taonga species.

Mana whenua can help turn around the climate crisis and bring the whenua back to life. Let’s raise our voices for the whenua, the ngahere, and the climate.


Darren van Hoof (Ngāti Whare, Tūhoe) works in the Bay of Plenty, Gisborne and Hawkes Bay rohe for Forest and Bird and is looking for ways to connect those from all backgrounds looking to restore te taiao. His background is in education and conservation and he has combined these two passions in his mahi and volunteering. Darren grew up in Rotorua and now lives in Papamoa. He and his partner are expecting their first child.

© E-Tangata, 2021

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