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Discover the urgent call for a native forestry future in New Zealand, as professional foresters Adrian Loo and Sheridan Ashford advocate for sustainable practices and climate action. Explore their vision for resilient ecosystems and the vital role of indigenous forests in shaping a greener legacy for generations to come.

Top Header Image: AI generated image created by Sheridan Ashford.

“Haere taka mua, taka muri. Kaua e whai.
Go in front, not behind. Don’t follow!”

~Māori proverb

We are both professional foresters, university educated in the commercial management of exotic plantations, an important part of New Zealand’s primary sector and where we are both currently employed. We think about the future a lot, so much so that we are founding members of the Future Foresters. When starting this initiative, we wanted to ensure that the forestry sector had a sustainable workforce of young people who are engaged and motivated to move the industry in the right direction. As we have matured in life, and our roles, we have become increasingly aware that a future focused approach needs to put sustainability and climate change at the forefront of any discussions. We are strong believers that the fight against climate change requires a multi-forested approach. We welcome the leadership, forward-thinking and urgency presented by the Recloaking Papatūānuku initiative.

When we wrote our first creative piece for Ō Tātou Ngahere our mindset was light-hearted, we thoroughly enjoyed creating a green utopia, a look 100 years into the future, a place we want our children and grandchildren to thrive. We created a future where:

  • The primary sectors are united as a joint front on climate change, working together as Kaitiaki of this beautiful land.
  • Aotearoa has a never-ending system of continuous cover forestry that provides woody biomass for us and our future generations.
  • Housing had transformed from the gray steel and concrete jungle of the past to the rich, golden syrup tones of tōtara, mataī and rimu abodes peppering the landscape.

Our vision was based on our own green desires, underpinned by the hope that a joint approach by industry, government, landowners and the general population would propel us forward in this direction. Unfortunately, as we sit here today our dream is looking increasingly harder to achieve without a significant change to the status quo.

We deserve a future where science-based solutions, long-term thinking, and global leadership creates resilient ecosystems, communities & economies.

We don’t need to look 100 years into the future, the climate emergency is here today. Since our first piece was written in 2021, the predictions of extreme climate events, devastating wildfires, and topsoil erosion have all dominated our news. We wrote about the warning signs flashing; these warning signs are now the headlines filling our newsfeeds. These are no longer just warnings but are now the reality we are facing; this is the reality our land is facing. Papatūānuku is weeping for the future; she deserves vibrant native forests.

We deserve a future where science-based solutions, long-term thinking, and global leadership creates resilient ecosystems, communities & economies. We deserve a future where our native ngahere is an integral part of our national identity, and where young people are the torchbearers of this legacy.

800 years ago, Aotearoa was predominantly a large forest, the landscape protected by a cloak of native bush. Through time, land use change has seen Aotearoa’s landscapes cleared of native forests and replaced with so-called “more productive” land uses. The reality is that this clearance and conversion extended well beyond the landscapes where the new land use can now be considered sustainable.

To achieve the future we deserve, we must start now. By focusing on our indigenous forest resources, we can safeguard the land, creating a shield of mixed forest canopy, intricate roots systems, and flourishing biodiversity with purified waterways.

Top Header Image: AI generated image created by Sheridan Ashford.

In the fight against climate change we must be a two-trick pony. We must reduce gross emissions and offset what we cannot currently reduce. Aotearoa has an opportunity to not only recloak its landscape in beautiful vibrant greenery, but these forests will also provide a huge number of benefits for our country. They will stabilise our erodible soils, protect our sensitive waterways, provide habitat for our imperiled biodiversity, provide a playground for our tamariki, and support our rural communities. Importantly, these forests will be constantly and continuously sequestering carbon from our atmosphere and fighting against climate change for our whakatupuranga heke mai.

We must enhance Aotearoa’s current forests, protect and grow our existing native forests, create new permanent native forests, and most importantly diversify our forest species. By integrating forests on a landscape level, by working with the existing land use, Aotearoa can create benefits to be shared by all neighbouring land uses. Forests can be expanded in areas that focus on non-forest benefits; these forests are areas for all New Zealanders to enjoy.

As we stand, this visionary future may seem distant, but it is within reach. Our rangatahi deserve a future graced by vibrant native forests. They are the ones who will carry forward the legacy of environmental stewardship, as they embody the wisdom of “Haere taka mua, taka muri. Kaua e whai” – “Go in front, not behind. Don’t follow.” It is their right to inherit a New Zealand where native forests flourish, sustaining not only the environment but also the dreams and aspirations of generations to come.

Adrian and Sheridan are both professional foresters working in the New Zealand forestry sector. Both were founding members of Future Foresters and Adrian has recently been elected Vice-President of the NZ Institute of Forestry. This article is a contribution to the Recloaking Papatūānuku initiative, an urgent and ambitious programme to restore our indigenous forests, building on the Ō Tātou Ngahere partnership with Tāne’s Tree Trust. Find out more about the initiative here and sign up to join the movement.

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