Coronet Forest Harvest
This consultation is now closed.
Summary of submissions [PDF 2.56MB]
Should Coronet Forest be Harvested Early?
Coronet Forest is the 173ha block of Douglas fir trees growing on the lower slopes of Coronet Peak, close to Arrowtown. It was planted between 1984 and 1996 and has been managed with a view to providing a commercial return.
The forest is owned jointly by QLDC and our neighbours, Central Otago District Council. QLDC has a 75 percent stake and CODC has 25 percent.
QLDC owns the land that the trees are planted on. It is designated for the primary purpose of planting, tending, managing and harvesting trees for timber production.
If the forest were left to grow to maturity, the trees would be harvested between 2029 and 2041, when they were 45 years old. That remains an option, but the Council is also considering whether it would be advisable to harvest the trees earlier.
The Douglas fir trees in the Coronet Forest are a significant seed source for the spread of wilding conifers across the high country in our district. During the 2015/16 season alone the Wakatipu Wilding Conifer Control Group (WCG) spent $1.2 million on wilding control across the region.
The WCG is a community, not-for-profit organisation created in April 2009. They are focused on protecting biodiversity and the remarkable landscape of the Wakatipu for the benefit of residents, users, tourists and particularly, future generations, for more information please visit the WCG website.
QLDC has been helping fund wilding control since 2000. Is it sensible for the Council to be helping pay for the work done by the Wakatipu Wilding Conifer Control Group while at the same time contributing to the wilding problem by growing Douglas fir?
The bigger the trees get, the more seeds they will produce. We estimate that if Coronet Forest is left to grow to maturity, the cost of wilding control related to this seed source will be $2.9 million between now and harvest.
COST VERSUS BENEFIT
We have crunched the numbers for both an early harvest and letting the trees grow to maturity. We used two models – one was based on a “conservative” forecast of income from the timber and the other used an “optimistic” projection.
Both sets of figures factored in wilding control, the costs of harvest, replanting the land and the expected income from selling the timber. Once the seed source is extinguished, the compounding effects of wildings are no longer factored in.
Under the conservative model, the outcome was neutral – ie there was neither an obvious financial benefit nor a disadvantage in harvesting the trees early or leaving them to grow to maturity.
Under the optimistic model, there is a $450,000 advantage in harvesting early.
If the Council opts to harvest Coronet Forest early, the optimistic model projects a nett return of $250,000 after revegetating the area in other species (see sidebar). The conservative model projects that there would be a shortfall of $1.2 million when revegetation costs are included.
Harvesting at maturity, the optimistic model projects a shortfall of $200,000 (including nett returns from the harvest, ongoing wilding control and revegetation costs at maturity.) The conservative model projects the same $1.2 million shortfall for the “harvest at maturity” option as for the “early harvest”.
Investing in forestry is a long-term commitment and carries several risks, including the possibility of damage from storm and fire.
Wood prices can be volatile and Coronet Forest is located a long way from potential markets.
Until recently, prices for Douglas fir have been on a par with Pinus Radiata. Since March the premium for Douglas fir has increased. Coupled with historically low ocean freight rates and the low exchange rate mean that current Douglas fir prices are considered favourable.
That could change.
THE RULES HAVE CHANGED
When the trees were planted, commercial forestry was a relatively common form of investment for councils. The Local Government Act has been amended so that Council investment in commercial forestry is no long consistent with the purposes of local authorities.
Early harvest and replanting in non-invasive species would meet the District Plan’s objectives for nature conservation and natural landscape values.
Bigger trees mean more timber
Allowing the trees to grow to maturity will produce higher volumes of timber, which would provide more income.
In the next 15 years, technology for harvesting trees on steep slopes may improve, which would reduce the cost of felling and retrieving the trees and improve the expected rate of return.
Log prices may increase.
Whatever the Council decides, Coronet Forest will be harvested sooner or later and the intention is to replant the lower slopes of Coronet Peak in species that won’t spread as wildings. This isn’t just common sense – it’s a requirement under our District Plan.
Income from selling the timber will be used to help pay for the replanting.
About 80 percent of the forest is classified as “non-Kyoto forest” under the Emissions Trading Scheme because it was planted before 1990. As long as the area is re-established in trees, the forest won’t be responsible for any loss of carbon.
There are no firm plans yet but the Wakatipu Reforestation Trust has advised that land could be replanted in a mix of beech and exotic species that would look similar to the hillsides above Arrowtown and be spectacular in the autumn.
As a rule of thumb, replanting would take place about three years after harvest so that any Douglas fir seeds left in the ground would germinate and be controlled first.
So what’s the problem with wilding conifers, you may be wondering? Isn’t any tree a good tree?
Douglas fir is a valuable source of timber. It grows quickly and is widely used by the building industry. So far so good.
It’s also an aggressive tree that easily colonises ungrazed tussock land, which is why it’s become a pest species in the Wakatipu.
Wildings spread in the direction of the prevailing wind and the land behind Coronet Forest is particularly susceptible to wilding invasion.
The effects of Coronet Forest are very visible already. As the trees get bigger and produce more seeds, their impact on the spread of wilding trees gets worse. Vast areas of native tussock grassland and beech forest are being invaded and as the wildings become the dominant species, they destroy the native ecosystem.
Although QLDC is already an active partner in wilding control, Otago Regional Council is taking a more forceful stance against wilding conifers and it’s likely that QLDC will be required to do even more to mitigate the effects of wildings spreading from Coronet Forest.
It’s foreseeable that the cost of wilding control would be far greater than the extra income we could gain by waiting until Coronet Forest was fully mature.