A discussion document on the future of New Zealand forests claims that the country is on the path to net deforestation. For those of us who know and value our forests, both as an economic engine and as the essence of our natural identity, this report is clear evidence that our forest estates are on the verge of disaster.

The report has been completed by Pure Advantage from mainstream data contained in the 2015 Environment Aotearoa report and has been welcomed by the Forest Owners Association.

This is so wrong in so many ways, not least because successive governments have been clearly advised since Victoria was queen that forestry demands our most careful attention. And not just as the cultural treasure our native forests so obviously are.

Without forests there would be no New Zealand. Forests, particularly kauri, was the foundation of the country’s first economy, both in attracting foreign investment, securing exports and in providing the material with which to build a modern nation. However from the first forests gained no respect but were treated as an expendable resource which would be destroyed in the colonial clamour for pasture based products. Farming, not forestry, became the standard identifier of the nation that trees made.

However, as the Our Forest Future report makes clear, we can make our country wealthier, and how we can secure our nation against various risks, by expanding our forests. But this would require a quantum shift if Wellington’s policy making that demands a level of leadership that is not an obvious characteristic of our present administration.

A quick look at the economic desolation of those once great heartlands of New Zealand bush, Te Tai Tokerau, Te Tai Rawhiti and Westland should be enough to paint a clear image of our future if we don’t address our national disrespect for the bush. We cut it down, we sell it too cheaply, we burn it, we refuse to protect it. A day of reckoning is coming.

To quote the report…to undertake net deforestation invites risks to New Zealand’s resilience and prosperity. These avoidable risks include degradation of our environmental assets, getting offside with currents in international climate politics, and lost economic opportunities by failing to transition to a more sustainable, more prosperous forestry industry.

Accordingly, this report calls for a national forest strategy. It calls for the creation of long-term plans to establish future forests that cover 1.3 million hectares of New Zealand, to offset our agricultural emissions and to position New Zealand on a feasible course for a net-zero greenhouse gas emissions future.

It remains to be seen whether such perfect sense will also be obvious to our Government.