Public Perceptions of Forestry Nowhere Near Reality

Recently, the results of a survey on the New Zealand Public's perceptions of the Environment in NZ[1] were published. The survey is a continuation of a programme of surveys conducted by Lincoln University every two years since 2000 and provides some very useful benchmarks of public opinion.

Some of the key findings from this report are:

  • While most New Zealanders recognise NZ's natural environment to be good relative to other countries the trend is downward with fewer believing that to be the case than previously. Similar trends exist for the perceived state of natural resources such as native forest and rivers and wetlands.
  • In terms of management of the environment, the most negative perceptions are around rivers and lakes. Farm effluent and runoff management is perceived most negatively with over 60% believing management is "bad" to "very bad".
  • In terms of the perceived major causes of damage to the environment forestry is perceived by 41% of respondents as a major cause of damage to native forests and bush. A surprising 19.5% of respondents even thought forestry was a cause of damage in national parks!!

    This is an astounding result and was commented upon in the report which noted that:

    "it is also surprising that respondents continue to identify forestry and urban development as the second and third most important causes of damage to native forests and bush. There is little indigenous forestry logging occurring in NZ and urban development into forest areas is absolutely minimal, especially compared to much larger impacts from farming".

    That a high proportion of the public still perceive forestry in this light is a serious issue. Amongst other things, it is such perceptions that ultimately shape public policy and the regulatory environment via our democratic system of governance. In addition they adversely impact the sector's ability to attract young and bright people to forestry for employment. It is now over 20 years since the industry signed the New Zealand Forest Accord with major NZ environmental organisations to protect indigenous forest remnants from conversion. Today over 50% of the New Zealand production forest estate is FSC certified and most larger forestry entities are committed to implementation of operational strategies to protect and retain indigenous ecosystems as well as being required to have at least 10% of their estate (by ecological district) reserved.

    In the same category farming was seen as a damaging cause by only 29% of respondents.

    Clearly the industry still has some educational work to do here and perhaps this explains why anti-forestry regulation under the RMA continues to surface in District Plans.

Most forestry companies go to considerable lengths to protect native forest ecosystems and wetlands such as the example illustrated here near Rotorua.

In other areas of environmental impact, forestry was perceived in the following ways:

Impacted EnvironmentDrivers of DamageForestry Position*% of respondents13yr TrendFarming Position*
Native plants and animals 12 8th ˜12% down 7th
Native forests 10 2nd 41% down 4th
Soils 10 10th 10% up 4th
Freshwater 12 11th 8% flat 4th
Wetlands 13 9th ˜9% up 2nd

*Note: the larger the number the lower the perceived significance as a damaging agent

  • As with the perceived damage to native forests, the perception related to wetlands is also an interesting one for foresters. Large numbers of small wetlands occur and only continue to survive because they are embedded within plantation estates and are generally afforded some degree of physical protection and margin buffering. Current codes of practice should never see wetlands drained and planted and a number of companies, including PF Olsen, are actively involved in protecting and enhancing existing wetlands in their estates.
  • Overall, forestry as a land based activity fairs quite well in this survey. However, there is no room for complacency and as an industry we must strive to correct misinterpretations of our performance and achieve consistently improving trends. This survey provides useful benchmarks.

    [1] Hughey,K.F.D., Kerr, G.N. and Cullen, R. 2013. Public Perceptions of New Zealand's Environment:2013. EOS Ecology, Christchurch. Vi+115pp ISSN2230-4967

    Click here for the full publication.