National Environmental Standards for Plantation Forestry

The National Environmental Standards for Plantation Forestry provide nationally consistent regulations to manage the environmental effects of forestry. Find out more about the NES-PF.


About National Environmental Standards

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. 

NES-PF now available

The National Environmental Standards for Plantation Forestry (NES-PF) were published on 3 August 2017 and will commence on 1 May 2018.

Objectives of the NES-PF

The NES-PF objectives are to:

  • maintain or improve the 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 currently manage the environmental effects of forestry activities through regional and district plans. As a result, the rules vary between and within regions. Some of these variations reflect local differences and community priorities. But where they don't, it can cause problems for the many forest owners who manage forests in 2 or more regions or have forests that straddle council boundaries. The variation results in:

  • increased costs
  • uncertainty about the plan rules they must follow.

The variations in rules can also lead to inconsistent environmental outcomes.

When the NES-PF comes into effect on 1 May 2018 it will provide 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.

How the NES-PF works

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)
  • earthworks
  • river crossings
  • forestry quarrying (extraction of rock, sand, or gravel within a plantation forest or for operation of a forest on adjacent land)
  • harvesting
  • mechanical land preparation
  • replanting.

The NES-PF applies to any forest of at least 1 hectare that has been planted specifically for commercial purposes and will be harvested.

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. 

Tools to help councils and foresters

The NES-PF regulations use several science-based tools to help council staff and foresters plan and manage forestry operations.

Flexibility for local environments

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.

Find out more about when local rules apply [PDF, 509 KB]

Implementing the NES-PF

The NES-PF will require changes to the way councils manage plantation forestry activities under the RMA. Councils and the forestry sector will need to understand the regulations. To help groups adjust to the changes, the NES-PF won't come into effect until 1 May 2018.

MPI is providing support to make sure foresters and councils:

  • understand how the regulations will work in practice
  • transition to the new rules.

A series of regional workshops for councils is underway.

We're also organising:

  • a series of regional field days which will bring together council staff and the plantation forestry sector
  • guidance materials which will be available on the website when finalised.

Get updates on upcoming NES-PF materials and events by subscribing to plantation forestry updates on our website.

Implementation timeline

Planned activity Date
Erosion Susceptibility Classification and Fish Spawning Indicator database deployment August 2017
Erosion Susceptibility Classification and Fish Spawning Indicator electronic risk assessment tool kit deployment September 2017
Co-design workshops with councils and forestry on planned changes, existing/future guidance and electronic risk assessment tools

September 2017 to November 2017
February 2018 to April 2018

Targeted engagement with priority stakeholders September 2017 to November 2017
February 2018 to April 2018
Guidance material published

August 2017
October 2017 to November 2017
February 2018 to March 2018

Material incorporated by reference in the regulations

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. 

Find out more

Who to contact

If you have questions about the NES-PF:

Last reviewed: | Has this been useful? Give us your feedback
Feedback