7.1.a Legislation and policies supporting the sustainable management of forests


This indicator provides information on legislation and policies, including regulation and programmes, which govern and guide forest management, operations and use. Legislation and policies designed to conserve and improve forest functions and values are prerequisite to achieving the sustainable management of forests.

Current state

Treaty of Waitangi

The Treaty of Waitangi was signed in 1840 and is the foundation legal document that recognises the rights of Māori in New Zealand and their partnership with the Crown. Its principles (see http://www.justice. govt.nz/tribunals/waitangi-tribunal) are provided for in many pieces of legislation, including the Resource Management Act 1991 and Conservation Act 1987.

The Waitangi Tribunal is the judicial body that considers claims from Māori who believe that they are prejudiced by government action inconsistent with the Treaty of Waitangi. The Tribunal was established by the Treaty of Waitangi Act 1975. It is a permanent commission of inquiry, charged with making recommendations on claims brought by Māori relating to acts or omissions of the Crown that breach the promises made in the Treaty of Waitangi (see http:// www.justice.govt.nz/tribunals/waitangi-tribunal/the-claims- process). Many claims relate to the return of resources held by the Crown. Land subject to a claim has its title annotated accordingly so that the claim is not affected should the land be sold.

Resource Management Act 1991

The RMA is the primary legislation for statutory resource management planning, having brought together laws governing land, air and water resources.

The RMA has been under review since 2008 to simplify and streamline planning processes. The second phase of amendments is currently under consideration through the Resource Management Reform Bill 2012.

The purpose of the RMA (section 5) is “...to promote the sustainable management of natural and physical resources”. Sustainable management is described in (section 5(2)) as:

“...managing the use, development, and protection of natural and physical resources in a way, or at a rate, which enables people and communities to provide for their social, economic, and cultural well-being and for their health and safety while:

a. sustaining the potential of natural and physical resources (excluding minerals) to meet the reasonably foreseeable needs of future generations
b. safeguarding the life-supporting capacity of air, water, soil, and ecosystems
c. avoiding, remedying, or mitigating any adverse effects of activities on the environment.”

Matters of national importance are also identified in the RMA (section 6) and these must be recognised and provided for by those parties implementing the legislation. They currently include the:

  • protection of outstanding natural features and landscapes from inappropriate subdivision, use and development
  • protection of areas of significant indigenous vegetation and significant habitats of indigenous fauna;
  • relationship of Māori and their culture and traditions with their ancestral lands, water, sites, wāhi tapu (land of special spiritual, cultural or historical tribal significance) and other taonga (treasures)
  • protection of historic heritage from inappropriate subdivision, use and development
  • protection of recognised customary activities.

Other matters that those implementing the legislation must currently have regard to (section 7) include:

  • kaitiakitanga (guardianship by Māori in relation to natural and physical resources)
  • the ethic of stewardship;
  • the maintenance and enhancement of amenity values;
  • intrinsic values of ecosystems;
  • maintenance and enhancement of the quality of the environment.

Amendments being considered propose to delete some matters in sections 6 and 7, add new matters, and merge into one list matters of national importance. Also proposed is a new section 7 that will set expectations of best-practice approaches to resource management decisions.

Central government has devolved much of the responsibility for resource management planning and policy making to local government through the RMA. Every regional council must have a regional policy statement with which regional and district plans must be consistent. Such statements provide an overview of the resource management issues of the region, as well as policies and methods to achieve integrated management of the natural and physical resources of the whole region. Regional and district plans help councils carry out their functions in order to achieve the purpose of the RMA. All policy statements, and regional and district plans, must be reviewed every 10 years.

To provide direction to local government, central government can prepare national policy statements (such as the Proposed National Policy Statement on Indigenous Biodiversity, New Zealand Coastal Policy Statement 2010, and National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management 2014) and national environmental standards.

District and regional councils have taken differing planning approaches to manage plantation forestry activities under the RMA. This differing treatment of forestry activities is being addressed under a proposed National Environmental Standard for Plantation Forestry. The standard is being developed jointly with industry, councils and environmental non-government organisations. It is proposed that it will cover the key plantation forestry activities including harvesting and earthworks, and it is intended to improve certainty for forest owners.

Local Government Act 2002

The Local Government Act 2002 requires regional, district and city councils to develop community outcomes and translate these into long-term community plans. These are 10-year strategic planning documents covering all functions of local government. They do not override the provisions of RMA plans but are expected to inform the preparation of plans prepared under the RMA.

Biosecurity Act 1993

Central and regional government agencies administer functions under the Biosecurity Act 1993. The Act provides a framework to manage pests and unwanted organisms in New Zealand along a continuum from pre-border activities through to incursion response and long-term control and containment. The work is led and co-ordinated by the Ministry for Primary Industries.

  • An effective biosecurity system is crucial to protect the environment, the economy and human health. New Zealand’s biosecurity system is based on the Biosecurity Act 1993 and on four basic steps that reduce the potential or actual impact of a new and unwanted organism:
  • risk reduction involves identifying, analysing and eliminating or mitigating risks (offshore and border biosecurity measures)
  • readiness is about preparedness for future events
  • response involves actions taken after an incursion event
  • recovery comprises the co-ordinated mid- and long-term efforts to restore or mitigate the social, economic, natural and built environments.

Forest biosecurity is strengthened through collaboration with the sector and other stakeholders. Particularly relevant are the Forest Biosecurity Consultative Committee, the Surveillance Incursion Response Working Group and the Forest Research Biosecurity Council.

Forests Act 1949

An amendment in 1993 introduced Part 3A (provisions relating to indigenous forests) to the Forests Act 1949. Part 3A requires sustainable forest management plans or permits approved by the Ministry for Primary Industries for the commercial harvesting of timber from most privately owned indigenous forest, the registration of all sawmills processing indigenous timber, and controls the export of indigenous timber.

The purpose of Part 3A is to promote the sustainable management of indigenous forest land. Sustainable forest management is defined (section 7) as:

“…the management of an area of indigenous forest land in a way that maintains the ability of the forest growing on that land to continue to provide a full range of products and amenities in perpetuity while retaining the forest’s natural values.”

Independent Officers of Parliament

The Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment (PCE) is an independent Officer of Parliament under the Environment Act 1986. The PCE aims to maintain and improve the quality of New Zealand’s environment, with a focus on sustainability. The PCE has wide powers to investigate, to report findings and to make recommendations to Parliament on any matter where the environment may be, or has been, adversely affected. The Parliamentary Commissioner investigates and advises public authorities on the effectiveness of environmental planning and management.

Under the Ombudsmen Act 1975, an Ombudsman can investigate any decision, recommendation or action affecting any person or body of people undertaken by public service departments. An Ombudsman may report and make recommendations on complaints.


Government policy approach to primary sector management is cross-sector or landscape-based, with a focus on balancing environmental and economic outcomes. Government seeks to manage adverse effects on the environment while ensuring resource use is sustainable. This cross-sector and effects- based approach to resource management means a forestry policy is not considered appropriate by the Government . Investment decisions are largely market driven. These frameworks can result in land use change among primary sectors, including some conversion of plantation forest to pastoral farming where farming is more profitable.

The Wood Council of New Zealand’s Strategic Action Plan has a target to more than double forest and wood product exports to $12 billion by 2022. Government and industry are working jointly to realise the potential of engineered wood products to add value to the forestry industry, and to contribute to growing the value of the country’s forestry exports.


New Zealand has a well-established and robust legal framework supporting the sustainable management of resources, including forests. It includes the Resource Management Act 1991 (RMA), Forests Act 1949 and Biosecurity Act 1993. The Treaty of Waitangi recognises the rights of Māori and their partnership with the Crown.

Since 2008, amendments have been made to the Resource Management Act 1991 and further amendments are before Parliament.

Trend Status

Data Quality H

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