On this page:
- The history of New Zealand’s forests
- New Zealand’s forests today
- Location and type of forests in New Zealand
In Māori mythology, the creator of the first human also created the forests, connecting the two forever. The story goes that the kaitiaki (guardian) Tāne Mahuta created the forests by separating his parents, Papatūānuku (the earth mother) and Ranginui (the sky father), letting light into the world.
Forests have long been revered by Māori for their beauty and spiritual value, and for providing the food, medicines, weaving, and building materials necessary for survival.
New Zealand’s native forests are unique and support a huge range of plants and animals, many species of which are found only here.
Before people reached New Zealand, more than 80% of the land was covered in lush, dense native forest and shrublands. As more people arrived, they cleared large tracts of land for settlements and to grow food, using the native timber to build towns and fence farms.
Native forests were cleared so rapidly that by 1913, some native species were threatened with extinction. To reduce the pressure on native forests, exports of native timber were restricted, and in 1925, incentives were introduced to create plantations of exotic species. Radiata pine was the preferred tree crop, having been shown to grow faster in New Zealand than anywhere else in the world.
Mass plantings of exotic species in the 1920s, 30s and 60s created a robust forestry industry that supplied all New Zealand's domestic timber needs and secured the future of the remaining native forest.
Today, New Zealand has a total of 10.1 million hectares of forests, covering 38% of the land.
- 8 million hectares are native forest
- 2.1 million hectares are plantation forest. Of this, 1.7 million hectares is productive and the remainder is in reserves and unplanted areas near bodies of water, and infrastructure.
These 2 classes of forest have different biology, management, and values to New Zealanders.
Native (indigenous) forests
The Crown owns most native forests. Through the Department of Conservation, it manages about 5.2 million hectares of New Zealand's tall indigenous forests for the conservation of biodiversity, heritage, and recreation. Most of this Crown-owned forest is protected in national parks, scenic reserves, and other conservation areas.
Although most of New Zealand's indigenous forests are on conservation land, a large portion is privately-owned.
Two of the main types of native forest in New Zealand are:
- beech, made up of 5 species of southern beech
- podocarp trees, including rimu, tōtara, miro, kahikatea, and mataī.
Exotic plantation forests
New Zealand's forestry industry is largely based around sustainably-managed plantation forests. About 90% of our plantation forests are radiata pine (Pinus radiata). The remainder are Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) (6% of plantation area), eucalyptus, and other softwood and hardwood species.
In New Zealand, 96% of plantation forests are privately owned and used for commercial timber production.
Crown Forestry manages most of the New Zealand government’s commercial forestry assets.
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