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Identifying if forest is pre-1990 forest land
Pre-1990 forest land is a kind of land covered by the rules of the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS).
Pre-1990 forest land meets these conditions:
- the land was forest land on 31 December 1989 (native or exotic forest species), and
- the land was forest land on 31 December 2007 and contained mostly exotic tree species.
Land that was native forest on 31 December 1989 and remained native forest on 31 December 2007 is not pre-1990 forest land. It is not covered by the ETS.
- cover at least 1 hectare in area
- be species that can reach at least 5 metres in height when mature in that location
- have (or be likely to reach) canopy cover of more than 30% in each hectare
- be an area at least 30 metres across on average.
Find out about different kinds of forest land in the ETS
When you deforest pre-1990 forest land
In certain circumstances, if you deforest pre-1990 forest land you'll be liable to pay for the resulting greenhouse gas emissions. You’ll have to pay 1 New Zealand Unit (NZU or unit) for every tonne of carbon dioxide released by the deforestation. (This is also known as "surrendering" units under the rules for the ETS.)
There are some exceptions to this and actions you can take to avoid paying units.
Find out more about deforesting pre-1990 forest land without having to pay units
If you're unsure, you can request an emissions ruling to find out if what's happening on the land would be considered deforesting pre-1990 forest land.
Find out how to request an emissions ruling
What is meant by deforestation in the ETS
Deforestation has a specific meaning in the ETS. There are 2 situations when land is considered deforested after forest is cleared.
- The forest is removed and the land is converted or used for something else. For example, the land is developed for pasture, housing, or another non-forestry use.
- The land doesn't meet certain criteria within set time frames. In particular, if the land doesn't meet ETS criteria for re-establishing forest on the land (stocking rates per hectare and the growth rates of the trees on the land). These criteria are explained below.
Meeting ETS stocking and forest growth thresholds after clearing forest so that land is not considered deforested
If your forest land is cleared and re-established, you must meet ETS stocking and forest growth thresholds so that the land is not considered deforested. Your land will be treated as deforested if it does not meet these stocking and growth thresholds after 4, 10, and 20 years after clearance.
Threshold to meet 4 years after clearing
Four years after clearing, each hectare of the land must have:
- at least 500 stems of exotic forest species growing, or
- been replanted with at least 100 stems a hectare of willow or poplar species for managing soil erosion, where the local authority has determined the risk of soil erosion is at least moderate, or
- mostly indigenous forest species, growing so that the land per hectare is likely to be forest within 10 years after clearance.
Threshold to meet 10 years after clearing
Ten years after clearing, each hectare of land must have:
- mostly exotic species growing, with a tree crown cover of more than 30% from trees that have reached at least 5 metres high, or
- mostly indigenous forest species growing that meet the definition of forest land in the ETS.
Threshold to meet 20 years after clearing
Twenty years after clearing, if the land contains mostly indigenous forest species, each hectare of forest must have more than 30% crown cover from trees that have reached at least 5 metres in height.
Identifying the main or "predominant" species in forest land
The main or “predominant” species within forest land has a specific meaning under the legislation for the ETS. The legislation also specifies a particular way to determine this. If the predominant species within the forest is not clear, use the species with the largest total basal area. This is the cross-sectional area of the trunk at 1.4 metres above the ground on the uphill side of the tree. Combine these measurements for all the trees in each species, and the species with the largest total is the main species.
When clearing pre-1990 forest land is not considered deforestation in the ETS
Clearing pre-1990 forest land is not considered deforestation in some circumstances, including if:
- the land is replanted or regenerated with forest species to meet the requirements for forest stocking rates per hectare and the growth rates outlined above within the set time frames, or
- you are only deforesting small areas of pre-1990 forest land totalling 2 hectares or less in any mandatory emissions return period (the next period is 1 January 2023 to 31 December 2025), or
- you apply successfully in advance to plant forest to replace the cleared forest (also known as offsetting forest land), or
- a natural event damages the land in a way that permanently prevents a new forest from being re-established in that location.
Clearing land under the following circumstances is also not considered deforestation of pre-1990 forest land, if:
- you are clearing land that touches the edge of pre-1990 forest land that existed on 31 December 2007, and
- the area being cleared is less than 1 hectare or is less than 30 m at its widest point, and
- the area is required to be or remain cleared for New Zealand’s best practice forest management, and
- is cleared only for the purpose of implementing best practice forest management.
Check when deforestation obligations don't apply and find out how to apply for an exemption
Find out more about applying to offset pre-1990 forest land
Who is responsible when deforesting pre-1990 forest land
When pre-1990 land is deforested, the person or organisation that owned the land at the time is presumed responsible for the deforestation under the rules for the ETS. They must notify us and submit an emissions return.
In some circumstances, somebody other than the landowner may have deforested the land. They may be responsible. For this to be the case, we must be satisfied that the landowner had no control over the decision to deforest.
If the responsibility for the land under the ETS changed recently
If pre-1990 forest land is deforested before it is transferred to a new owner, the former landowner must meet the ETS responsibilities for deforestation. They must tell us about the deforestation.
If ownership of pre-1990 forest land is transferred after it was cleared but before it is considered deforested under ETS rules:
- the previous owner is not responsible, even though the land was cleared while they owned it
- the new owner will be responsible for the deforestation as they are the landowner when the land became considered as deforested.
See section above on this page on what is considered deforestation in the ETS
Find out more about buying, selling or inheriting forest land in the ETS
Why deforesting pre-1990 forest land carries ETS responsibilities
You may be wondering why you have ETS responsibilities for deforesting pre-1990 forest land.
The ETS was designed to create incentives to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions in New Zealand. This will help us meet our international obligations under climate-change treaties like the Paris Agreement and the Kyoto Protocol.
Read more about New Zealand's obligations under the Kyoto Protocol and Paris Agreement – Ministry for the Environment
Forestry is one of the sectors covered by the ETS. Forest land defined in the ETS is aligned to the Kyoto Protocol. In the Kyoto Protocol, a distinction is made between:
- forest established before 1 January 1990 (pre-1990 forest land)
- those established after 31 December 1989 (post-1989 forest land).
In the ETS, you are liable to pay for your emissions if deforesting certain pre-1990 forest land.
You must also pay (surrender) units earned for deforesting post-1989 forest land, but only if the forest owner registered and entered the land into the ETS.
How to meet your responsibilities for deforesting pre-1990 forest land
This section explains what you need to do if your pre-1990 forest land is considered deforested under ETS rules. We strongly advise you to complete steps 1 and 2 before the land is considered deforested under ETS rules.