Indigenous forestry

Sustainable Management of Private Indigenous Forests

The Legislation

The Forests Act 1949 (Forests Act) was amended in 1993 to bring an end to unsustainable harvesting and clearfelling of indigenous forest. The amendment, Part 3A, covers the sustainable management of private indigenous forests. It provides owners options for managing their forests in order to harvest and mill timber, and it places controls on the milling and exporting of timber from indigenous forests.

Sustainable Forest Management

Sustainable forest management is defined in the Forests Act as "management of an area of indigenous forest land in a way that maintains the ability of the forest growing on that land to continue to provide a full range of products and amenities in perpetuity while retaining the forest’s natural values." The sustainable management of New Zealand’s indigenous forests will provide benefits to society and conserve biodiversity for generations to come.

Under the Forests Act, indigenous timber can only be produced from forests which are managed in a way that maintains continuous forest cover and ecological balance. Management systems must ensure that the forests continuously provide a full range of products and amenities, in perpetuity, while retaining the forests' natural values. Only single trees and small groups of trees can be felled for timber production.

Value analysis of New Zealand’s privately owned indigenous forest sector

In 2013 KPMG was engaged by MPI to carry out an assessment of the value of New Zealand’s privately owned indigenous forests based on a sustainable forest management approach.

The estimated current and potential revenues for four key indigenous species (red beech, silver beech, rimu and tawa) were assessed. The analysis looked specifically at three price points along the value chain: log entry to the mill, timber exit from the mill and the end user. Findings point to significant opportunities for growth in this sector, both in terms of increasing annual harvest volumes and financial return.  Any growth, however, would likely require substantial investment and achieving the potential revenue streams would require market changes.

Barriers to entering sustainable forest  management for landowners and processors were also examined, with key issues relating to infrastructure, marketing, export restrictions, and consenting processes and costs. Industry have proposed a number of initiatives to support the indigenous forestry sector and these are discussed in detail in the report.

The report did not focus on the costs associated with harvesting and milling indigenous timber and this will be the focus of future economic research on this sector.

A copy of the full report "Indicative value of New Zealand's privately owned indigenous forests [PDF, 661 KB]" is available for download.

Other Provisions

There are also provisions for milling minor quantities of timber where a plan or permit is not in place e.g. naturally dead, windthrown or salvaged timber, or timber approved for harvesting and milling for an owner's personal use.

Controls on sawmills mean they may only mill logs of indigenous species sourced from forests managed according to sustainable management plans or permits, or other approved sources.

Forest Under Sustainable Forest Management

Currently there are approximately 50,000 hectares of indigenous forest being managed under nearly 50 management plans, with an allowable annual harvest of 78,000 m3 standing volume. The number of permits changes, but typically there are about 400 registered permits at one time. They produce a range of timbers for use in furniture and speciality areas. Approximately 250,000 hectares of indigenous forests have the potential to be sustainably managed.

Register of current SFM management plans [PDF, 189 KB]
Register of current SFM permits [PDF, 189 KB].

Exporting indigenous timber and/or products

The Forests Act has restrictions on indigenous timber exports. However, there are still considerable export opportunities.

Finished1 and manufactured2 indigenous timber products and personal effects3 can be exported without MPI approval.

The following indigenous timber commodities can be exported after obtaining approval from MPI (applications need to be made using the ‘Notice of Intention to Export Indigenous Timber’ form at the bottom of this page):

  • sawn beech or rimu from a forest subject to an Sustainable Forest Management (SFM) Plan or Permit providing the each piece has a cross-sectional area not exceeding 30 000 m2;
  • stumps or roots of any species, either whole or sawn, where the timber has either been salvaged from non-indigenous forest land or sourced from a forest subject to a SFM Plan or Permit;
  • tree fern trunks or fibre taken from an SFM Plan or Permit forest, or taken from indigenous forest land not subject to an SFM Plan or Permit with the prior written approval of MPI, or taken from non-4indigenous forest land.
  • indigenous logs or timber from a planted indigenous forest5 or Permanent Forests Sink Covenant.

Indigenous timber not covered in the above categories may not be exported. This includes indigenous timber sourced from most types of milling statement and recycled sawn demolition timber.

For more information contact a Forestry and Land Operations adviser at MPI.

In addition to MPI export approval, importing countries may have phytosanitary requirements such as heat treatment. For information on ‘Forestry Importing Countries Phytosanitary Requirements’ refer to

Carbon forestry options for new indigenous forests

As a part of a suite of government initiatives to combat climate change, there are three carbon forestry schemes designed to encourage the establishment of new forests (both indigenous and exotic). Forests must be established since 1 January 1990, and be “direct human induced … through planting, seeding and/or the human induced promotion of natural seed sources”.

Two of the carbon forestry schemes provide the opportunity for landowners to earn revenue from the carbon sequestered by their forest (the NZ Emissions Trading Scheme and the Permanent Forest Sink Initiative). The third provides a grant for forest establishment.



Annual Logging Plan
Harvest or Milling of Indigenous Timber for Personal Use
Milling Statement to mill indigenous timber not sourced under a plan or permit
Notice of Intention to Export Indigenous Timber
Planted Indigenous Forest Certificate Application
Register a Sawmill
Registered Sawmill Change of Ownership form
Sustainable Forest Management Permit Application

More Information

For more information, contact one of MPI’s regional offices .


  • 1, 2 Finished or manufactured product: any indigenous wood product that has been manufactured into its final shape and form and is ready to be installed or used for its intended purposed without the need for any further machining or other modification; and includes a complete item or a component of an item (whether assembled or in kitset form) such as joinery, furniture, toys, tools, and household utensils, household fixtures such as rails and toilet seats ornaments such as picture frames and carvings, and similar items; but does not include dressed or rough sawn timber, mouldings, panelling, furniture blanks, joinery blanks, building blanks, or similar items
  • 3Personal effects are assumed to be items carried on or with the person. Items such as keys, wallet, cell phone would normally be considered personal effects. In relation to indigenous timber this could include items such as a wooden hand-mirror, key-ring or hairbrush. Personal effects are generally distinguished from household items (such as drawers or dressers) or baggage. If you are unsure whether your item fits under this category, contact MPI for advice. As guidance:
    • Is the ‘item’ of relatively small, personal nature?
    • Does it have a ‘personal’ purpose? (e.g. for personal grooming, personal financial management or personal communication)
    • Is it the kind of item generally carried on, or by, a person (as distinct from in their baggage for example)?
    • Can it be distinguished from baggage and household items?
  • 4 Indigenous forest land: land wholly or predominantly under the cover of indigenous flora
  • 5 Planted indigenous forest: any indigenous timber trees or tree ferns that have been planted on land that was not indigenous forest land immediately before such planting and was not indigenous forest land immediately before the land was prepared for such planted.
  • Stump: the basal part of a living or dead tree (whether rooted or uprooted), being the roots and that part of the trunk that extends from the groundline to a point (up the trunk) equal to the maximum diameter of the trunk; and, for the purposes of this definition, any remnant of a tree shall be regarded as part of a complete tree.
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