The History of New Zealand Forestry

Plantation Forestry in New Zealand began in 1925 after the Government introduced financial incentives for the creation of plantation forests from imported species. This was mainly due to the rapid deforestation of native species since early settlement began in the mid 1800’s. The majority of these native forests were cleared to use the land for farming, with the native timber also being widely used in housing, fencing and for ships spars and masts.

New Zealand experienced its first forestry planting boom in the 1920’s and 30’s followed by another boom in the 1960’s. This was followed by another strong period of planting in the 1980’s and 90’s. The first planting boom had labour provided from relief workers during the Great Depression and large areas of the central north island were planted on soils first thought unsuitable for farming due to a cobalt deficiency, causing “bush-sickness” in animals. The largest area planted was 189,000 hectares of the Kaingaroa Forest in the Central North Island, which boasts being the largest plantation forest in the world.

Early foresters experimented with Monterey Pine (Pinus Radiata) with seeds imported from its native homeland of California. Radiata Pine was planted for shelterbelts on farms but it quickly became popular due its rapid growth rates in New Zealand’s climate, some 7 times faster than that of the species grown in California. In its natural state in tended to be heavily branched with a forked trunk but through genetic research and seed collection from trees of good form and growth, improvements were made.

Forests cover 31% of New Zealand’s land, with plantation forestry being 7% of the total land area. Radiata Pine now makes up 90% of New Zealand’s plantation forest (approx. 1.6 million hectares) and is grown throughout the country from north to south. Today New Zealand makes up one-third of the world’s total Radiata Pine stocks. Forestry exports are also now the third largest export earner for New Zealand behind the Dairy and Meat industries.

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