Update – 4 October 2023
Changes have been made to how the effects of commercial forestry are managed. The changes give councils more power to decide where new forests are located, and the regulations now apply to both plantation forestry and exotic continuous-cover forests (carbon forests) that are deliberately established for commercial purposes.
The regulations are now called the National Environmental Standards for Commercial Forestry (NES-CF). They were previously called the National Environmental Standards for Plantation Forestry (NES-PF).
What it does
The changes mean that the same regulations apply to both plantation forests and carbon forests and the environmental effects of large-scale forestry on the environment, communities, and rural economies are well managed.
Why is it needed?
Previously, the National Environmental Standards for Plantation Forestry (NES-PF) only managed forests planted for harvest. Since the NES-PF was introduced in 2018, there has been an increase in carbon forests, which weren't managed by the NES-PF. This follows a rise in the carbon price and subsequent farm conversions to forestry.
It is also important that all forests are well-managed to ensure any adverse effects are managed. For example, assessing wilding conifer risk, establishing setbacks from roads, dwellings and waterways, and managing harvests .
The National Environmental Standards for Commercial Forestry (NES-CF) came into force on 3 November 2023. New activities need to comply with the NES-CF.
However, existing activities (such as harvest or earthworks) with management plans that have been submitted to councils prior to 3 November will be able to continue under the existing management plan until that activity is completed or in the case of continuous harvest until the notice expires.
If a notice expires prior to 3 April 2024 (for instance for ongoing operations that submit an annual notice) foresters will be able to renew their existing management plan once under the current rules.
From 6 October to 18 November 2022, the Government consulted on options and proposals to amend the NES-PF to better manage the environmental effects of plantation forestry.
The need for change was also highlighted following recommendations from the Ministerial Inquiry into Land Use in the Tairāwhiti and Wairoa districts released in May this year.
Find out more about the consultation
About the NES-CF
The National Environmental Standards for Commercial Forestry:
- set standards for managing 8 of the main activities carried out by commercial forests
- enable councils to make rules to control afforestation in their plans, including forest locations
- require carbon foresters to plan out and document how they will meet environmental requirements for different forestry activities on their sites. These requirements for plantation foresters already exist
- set out clear rules for any harvest that happens in a carbon forest
- have a new permitted activity standard for managing forestry slash on the cutover.
The changes come into effect from 3 November 2023. The Ministry for the Environment and councils will work together to implement the changes, while Te Uru Rākau – New Zealand Forest Service is developing risk assessment and management tools for landowners and councils.
On this page:
- About National Environmental Standards
- NES-CF is available
- Understanding the NES-CF
- Objectives of the NES-CF
- How the NES-CF works
- Year One review
- Tools to help councils and foresters
- Flexibility for local environments
- Implementing the NES-CF
National Environmental Standards (NES) are regulations made under the Resource Management Act 1991 (RMA) and:
- set out technical standards, methods or requirements relating to matters under the RMA
- provide consistent rules across the country by setting planning requirements for certain specified activities.
An NES prevails over district or regional plan rules except where the NES-PF specifically allows more stringent plan rules.
The National Environmental Standards for Commercial Forestry (NES-CF) came into effect on 3 November 2023.
Resource Management (National Environmental Standards for Commercial Forestry) Amendment Regulations 2023 were gazetted on 2 October 2023.
The Resource Management (National Environmental Standards for Commercial Forestry) 2023 will be available on the New Zealand Legislation website within 2 weeks of the regulations coming into effect. Until then, the NES-CF Amendment Regulations can be read alongside the NES-PF Regulations.
The Ministry for the Environment have made a factsheet that explains the changes to the National Environmental Standards for Plantation Forestry 2017 – now the National Environmental Standards for Commercial Forestry 2023.
Check if a forest is covered by the NES-CF standards.
The NES-CF objectives are to:
- maintain or improve the environmental outcomes associated with commercial forestry activities
- increase the efficiency and certainty of managing commercial forestry activities.
The objectives are achieved through a single set of regulations under the RMA that apply to commercial foresters throughout New Zealand.
The NES-CF regulations cover 8 core commercial forestry activities that have potential environmental effects:
- afforestation (planting new forest)
- pruning and thinning to waste (selective felling of trees where the felled trees remain on site)
- river crossings
- forestry quarrying (extraction of rock, sand, or gravel within a plantation forest or for operation of a forest on adjacent land)
- mechanical land preparation
The NES-CF applies to any forest of at least one hectare that is a plantation forest or an exotic continuous-cover forest as defined by the regulations.
The terms of reference for the Year One review of the implementation of the NES-PF were agreed by Ministers and were made available on 12 February 2019. The review started 1 May 2019. Ministers were provided with the completed review on 24 July 2020, and it was made public May 2021.
Plantation forests continue to play a key role in contributing to New Zealand’s climate change, environmental, cultural, social, and economic aspirations. Ongoing implementation for the NES-PF following Year One review includes:
- Our transition to a low-emissions future will require plantation forests to play a substantial part, both in removing carbon from the atmosphere and providing fuel for low emissions technologies.
- Overall, the Year One review found that the NES-PF is effective, but further implementation support for councils and the forestry sector would lift performance and compliance.
- The key findings of the Year One Review will be considered within the Government’s response to the Climate Change Commission’s upcoming recommendations and wider resource management reforms, to support the right tree in the right place.
To contact Te Uru Rākau – New Zealand Forest Service about the Year One review, email NES-CF@mpi.govt.nz
Conditions to manage potential environmental effects
The regulations are based on good forestry practices.
Some examples of the conditions under the NES-CF regulations are:
- setbacks when planting next to rivers, lakes, wetlands, and coastal areas. These unplanted strips protect riparian areas from forestry activities
- management plans for afforestation, earthworks, forest quarrying, harvesting and replanting activities to identify environmental risks and how they'll be managed
- identifying and maintaining storm water and sediment control measures for forestry activities.
In many places the activity is permitted if the forester can meet permitted activity conditions. Most activities on red zone land need resource consent from the council. Activities where the forester does not think they can meet the permitted activity conditions also need resource consent.
Councils may charge for monitoring
Councils will be able to charge to recover the costs of monitoring the permitted activities of afforestation, harvesting, earthworks, and forest quarrying and river crossings. These permitted activities have a higher risk of environmental effects if foresters don't comply with conditions.
If councils choose to set a charge, they will need to comply with the requirements of the Resource Management Act and the Local Government Act. These include:
- a public consultation process
- having clear links between any charges and the activities being charged for
- establishing charges covering reasonable costs.
This is the same process councils must currently use to charge for issuing and monitoring resource consents.
The NES-CF regulations use several science-based tools to help council staff and foresters plan and manage forestry operations.
The NES-CF recognises the need for flexibility to protect sensitive local environments. Regional and district councils plans can be more stringent to:
- manage their unique and sensitive environments such as geothermal areas and drinking water supplies
- protect significant natural areas and outstanding natural features and landscapes
- give effect to other national RMA mechanisms like the:
- National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management
- New Zealand Coastal Policy Statement.
While the NES-CF covers the core forestry activities, there are other activities that are still covered by plan rules.
Councils can now make more stringent or more lenient rules for any matter that is covered by the afforestation activity.
The Ministry for the Environment and MPI are developing guidance to hepl implement the NES-CF. The guidance will mainly be for regional councils, territorial authorities, and the forestry industry as the main users of the NES-CF. Much of the guidance developed for the NES-PF still applies, and is still available. This will be updated to reflect the amendments.
If you are unsure whether material in this guidance still applies, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Ministry for the Environment have produced guidelines to help councils with their compliance, monitoring and enforcement (CME) responsibilities under the RMA:
Get the latest on the NES-PF
Get updates on upcoming NES-PF materials and events by subscribing to plantation forestry updates on our website.
References that are part of the NES-PF regulations (material incorporated by reference) are listed in Schedule 2 of the regulations. They include information that helps foresters understand the rules that apply to them.