Harvesting and milling native (indigenous) timber

Find out about harvesting and milling indigenous timber, the controls around it and the approvals you may need.

Options for private forest owners

Owners of indigenous forests on private land have several options if they wish to harvest and mill their trees:

  • sustainable forest management (SFM) plans
  • sustainable forest management (SFM) permits
  • personal use approvals for the harvesting and milling of indigenous timber.

SFM permits can be applied to forests of any size but are best suited to small forests that may not justify the resources required to prepare a full SFM plan.

The milling of indigenous timber can also be authorised through milling statements issued under specific circumstances. Statements must verify the timber as having originated from a recognised source.

A recognised source may include:

  • naturally dead or wind-thrown trees
  • salvaged timber
  • timber removed for the construction of an access way
  • timber from specified Māori land.

Details of the options

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SFM plans

SFM plans provide for the long-term management of a forest. They have a high level of complexity and usually need to be registered against an owner's interest in the land for at least 50 years.

MPI is responsible for approving SFM plans

An owner of indigenous forest may submit a draft SFM Plan to MPI for assessment and approval. MPI will only approve sustainable harvest rates.

Approved harvest rates may vary by forest and depend on:

  • the area and type of forest
  • the forest's location
  • the growth and replacement rates of the species to be harvested.

MPI must consult with the Department of Conservation (DOC) on all draft SFM plans, SFM permit applications and personal use applications.

Our SFM plan guides contain all the information you need to submit a draft SFM plan:

Drafting your plan

Drafting an SFM plan requires an understanding of tree species and forest ecology – especially growth and replacement processes.

A forest inventory is the core of an SFM plan. It enables owners to determine sustainable harvest rates and choose a management system appropriate for them.

Help is available

To prepare a draft SFM plan, you may need help from a forestry professional experienced in indigenous forest inventory and management systems. A forestry professional can compile a summary of resources based on your forest inventory and prepare a draft plan suited to your needs.

You may also choose to employ a professional to oversee forest operations and monitor forest management outcomes.

The New Zealand Institute of Forestry can help you locate a suitable forestry professional.

Annual Logging plans

Before harvesting can take place, operators must provide MPI with an annual logging plan.

An annual logging plan specifies:

  • the species and volumes to be harvested in a given year
  • proposed harvest methods
  • the area from which the timber is to be harvested
  • any special logging requirements – such as directional felling required to protect adjacent forestry
  • topography, including all waterways and both existing and proposed tracks and landings.

Owners must keep records of all timber harvested.

Operators are encouraged to actively harvest trees of different ages and sizes and to source trees that are at risk of dying naturally.

Inventory and logging resources 

Our indigenous forestry and milling guides can help with your forest inventory:

SFM permits

SFM permits:

  • set harvest limits for indigenous forests
  • manage harvest activities to minimise ecological impacts
  • have a lower level of complexity than SFM plans
  • must show harvesting will be done in a sustainable manner
  • are usually put in place for 10 years.

MPI is responsible for approving SFM permits

Any indigenous forest owner may submit an SFM permit application to MPI for approval.

SFM permits are valid for 10 years. They allow a forest owner to harvest and mill capped volumes of timber within the guidelines of their permit for the full 10 years.

There are limits on harvest approvals

There are 2 ways to calculate the maximum standing volume of timber that can be harvested. The approved maximum will be whichever measurement results in a smaller volume of harvest.

Option 1:
  • 250 cubic metres of podocarp, kauri or shade tolerant, exposure-sensitive, broadleaved hardwood species, and
  • 500 cubic metres of beech or other light-demanding hardwood species
Option 2:
  • 10% of the standing volume by species.

Permit applications must adhere to the Forests Act

Before approving a permit, MPI must be sure the proposed harvest volume is within the limits set in the Forests Act. We must also be sure your harvest will not unduly damage the ecology of your forest. By law, all plans and permits require the protection of important plants, animals and insects and adequate management of introduced weeds and pests.

SFM permits can be applied to forests of any size but are best suited to small forests that may not justify the resources required to prepare a full SFM plan.

Our SFM permit guides contain all the information you need to apply for an SFM permit:

Your application should be made using an SFM permit application form:

Inventory and logging resources

Our indigenous forestry and milling guides can help with your forest inventory.

Logging plans

Before harvesting can take place, operators must provide MPI with an annual logging plan.

An annual logging plan specifies:

  • the species and volumes to be harvested in a given year
  • proposed harvest methods
  • the area from which the timber is to be harvested
  • any special logging requirements – such as directional felling required to protect adjacent forestry
  • topography, including all waterways and both existing and proposed tracks and landings.

Owners must keep records of the standing volumes of all harvested timber.

Operators are encouraged to actively harvest trees of different ages and sizes and to source trees that are at risk of dying naturally.

Personal use approvals

Owners of indigenous forestry may apply for approval to harvest up to 50 cubic metres of timber (measured as standing volume) for their own personal use.

Approval is valid for 10 years.

MPI must consult with the Department of Conservation (DOC) before approving personal use harvesting and may restrict the areas from which the timber can be harvested. In most instances, we will also inspect and measure the trees to be harvested.

An application to harvest and mill indigenous timber for personal use should be made on this form:

Milling statements

The sawmill controls in the Forests Act allow MPI to issue milling statements. Milling statements provide confirmation of the source and legality of the timber to be harvested or milled.

They only apply to timber from areas not subject to SFM plans or permits under the Forests Act – such as planted indigenous forests.

Milling statements are issued in specific circumstances

Statements can be issued for the harvesting and milling of timber gained from:

  • naturally dead or wind-thrown trees
  • a forest subject to a forest sink covenant
  • tree ferns
  • specified Māori land
  • land managed by the Crown – including timber from a conservation estate approved for cultural use
  • forests first milled before 1 July 1993
  • felling for a public work
  • felling for a mining operation
  • felling for the construction or maintenance of an accessway or water impoundment
  • felling for a purpose directly necessary for approved scientific research
  • salvage from land other than indigenous forest land - timber must be naturally fallen or have been felled to waste prior to  1June 1989.

Owners of planted (rather than self-sown) indigenous forest are also entitled to mill under a milling statement. Certificates for planted indigenous forests can be obtained separately from and prior to a milling statement.

A written milling statement must be obtained before any milling can begin. We recommend you contact us before you fell or remove any trees.

Applying for a milling statement

An application to mill timber from the allowed categories should be made on a milling statement application form:

MPI's milling statements and personal use approvals leaflet contains more information about the information you will need to provide with your application:

A copy of your milling statement must be supplied, along with your logs, to the registered sawmill you plan to use.

MPI has the right to inspect any timber prior to harvesting or milling. In some cases, this will be needed before a statement can be provided.

Who to contact

If you'd like to know more about whether your timber falls into the categories that qualify for a milling statement, email indigenous.forestry@mpi.govt.nz.

Planted indigenous forest certificates

Timber from planted (rather than self-sown) indigenous forests may be milled and exported under the Forests Act. Before doing so, you must still apply for a milling statement and provide notice of your intention to export.

We recommend owners of planted indigenous forests apply for a Planted indigenous forest certificate. A certificate will verify for millers and exporters that your timber comes from a recognised source – reducing the need to supply further evidence.

Planted indigenous forest certificate application [PDF, 121 KB]

Registered sustainable forests

There are just over 50 SFM plans and around 150 SFM permits registered with MPI. Data on each of these is available for public access.

Obtaining resource consent

It is your responsibility to obtain any resource consents necessary for the felling or clearance of indigenous trees and plants.

Contact your regional or district council for information on resource consents.

Registering a sawmill

Indigenous timber must be milled by sawmills registered with MPI. Milling timber at an un-registered mill is an offence under the Forests Act.

A registered sawmill may mill any indigenous timber which has harvesting or milling approval from MPI.

The sawmill registration year runs from 1 July to 30 June the following year. If after 30 June you wish to continue milling indigenous timber you must re-register your sawmill.

Registered sawmills must provide MPI with returns of all indigenous timber received at the mill for processing every 3 months.

Sawmill registration forms

An application must be completed by anyone wishing to register a sawmill or change the ownership details of an already-registered sawmill.

Who to contact

If you have questions about the information on this page, email indigenous.forestry@mpi.govt.nz.

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