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 in the same way. This follows a rise in the carbon price and subsequent farm conversions to forestry.
Negative effects of the changes in land use include forests growing in places where more environmental damage can happen, erosion, sediment flowing into waterways, and the movement of forestry slash.
These improvements have been made to reduce the risks to life, assets, and the environment.
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:
- are clear standards on the way forests can operate
- enable councils to consider more factors when making rules about forestry in their plans, including its location
- require carbon foresters to plan out how they will meet environmental requirements for different forestry activities on their sites. These requirements for plantation foresters already exist
- state clear rules for carbon forest harvest should this be undertaken
- have a new permitted activity standard for managing forestry slash on the cutover and some minor amendments to manage the effects of slash at harvest.
The changes come into effect from 2 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-PF is available
- Objectives of the NES-PF
- How the NES-PF works
- Year One review
- Tools to help councils and foresters
- Flexibility for local environments
- Implementing the NES-PF
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 Plantation Forestry (NES-PF) were published on 3 August 2017 and came into force on 1 May 2018.
Resource Management (National Environmental Standards for Plantation Forestry) Amendment Regulations 2018 (which include changes to the Erosion Susceptibility Classifications) were published on 26 April 2018 and commenced on 1 May.
- NES-PF regulations – NZ Legislation website
- NES-PF regulation amendments 2018 – NZ Legislation website
- Material incorporated by reference in the regulations
The NES-PF objectives are to:
- maintain or improve the environmental outcomes associated with plantation forestry activities
- increase the efficiency and certainty of managing plantation forestry activities.
The objectives are achieved through a single set of regulations under the RMA that apply to foresters throughout New Zealand.
Why an NES for forestry activities
Councils previously managed the environmental effects of forestry activities through regional and district plans. As a result, the rules varied between and within regions. Sometimes these variations reflected local differences and community priorities. But where they didn't, it caused problems for the many forest owners who manage forests in 2 or more regions or have forests that straddle council boundaries. The variation resulted in:
- increased costs
- uncertainty about the plan rules they must follow.
The variations in rules also led to inconsistent environmental outcomes.
The NES-PF provides a consistent set of regulations for plantation forestry activities. It covers 8 core plantation forestry activities, allowing these to be carried out as permitted activities, subject to conditions to manage potential effects on the environment.
Where it isn't possible to manage these effects – for example, the site is at high risk of erosion and needs greater controls – the activity requires resource consent.
The NES-PF regulations cover 8 core plantation 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-PF applies to any forest of at least one hectare that has been planted specifically for commercial purposes and will be harvested.
The terms of reference for the planned 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-PF@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-PF regulations are:
- setbacks when planting next to rivers, lakes, wetlands, and coastal areas. These unplanted strips protect against erosion and sedimentation from afforestation
- management plans for earthworks, forest quarrying, and harvesting activities to identify environmental risks and how they'll be managed
- identification and maintenance of storm water and sediment control measures for forestry activities.
If forest operators can meet the conditions, the activity is permitted. If not, they must seek a resource consent from their council.
Councils may charge for monitoring
Councils will be able to charge to recover the costs of monitoring permitted activities that require a management plan (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'll need to comply with the requirements of the RMA 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-PF regulations use several science-based tools to help council staff and foresters plan and manage forestry operations.
The NES-PF 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-PF covers the core forestry activities, there are other activities that are still covered by plan rules.
The NES-PF requires changes to the way councils manage plantation forestry activities under the RMA. So councils and the forestry sector need to understand all the NES-PF regulations and the changes they bring.
After publishing the regulations, Te Uru Rākau – New Zealand Forest Service (Forestry New Zealand) hosted a nationwide series of introductory workshops to help foresters and councils better understand the NES-PF.
A second series of workshops in May 2018 furthered foresters' knowledge of the NES-PF. Three scenario-based activities used in these workshops, including questions and answers, are available to download.
If you need further help implementing the NES-PF, check the guidance section below, speak to your local council, or contact Te Uru Rākau – New Zealand Forest Service.
Guidance to support NES-PF implementation
MPI has developed guidance to support implementation of the NES-PF. The guidance is targeted at regional councils, territorial authorities, and the forestry industry as the primary users of the NES-PF.
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.