7.4.b Development and application of research and technologies for the sustainable management of forests


This indicator provides information on the capacity to develop and incorporate new science, research, and technologies into forest management. Continuous improvement in the depth and extent of knowledge and its application will help ensure advances in the sustainable management of forests.

Current state

In May 2014, the Government released a Draft National Statement of Science Investment 2014– 2024, and sought feedback on the proposed direction for, and contribution of, science investment in
New Zealand. The Draft National Statement notes that the Government’s investment in 2015/16 will be $1.5 billion, allocated through:

  • collaborative mechanisms, including the National Science Challenges
  • contestable mechanisms, such as the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment administered sector-specific research funds
  • institutional funds, such as the Crown Research Institute core funding
  • business-led mechanisms, such as the Primary Growth Partnership.

The 10 new National Science Challenges are mission-led programmes of work undertaken by collaborations of different researchers, organisations, end-users and business. They include:

  • Our Land and Water – enhancing primary sector production and productivity while maintaining and improving land and water quality for future generations
  • New Zealand’s Biological Heritage – protecting and managing biodiversity, improving biosecurity, and enhancing resilience to harmful organisms
  • Science for Technical Innovation – enhancing the capacity of New Zealand to use physical and engineering sciences for economic growth.

The introduction in 2014 of the forest growers levy is a notable initiative that, in part, provides funding for forest research (see Indicator 7.5.a).


Scion is a Crown Research Institute that specialises in research, science and technology development for the forestry, wood product and wood-derived materials and other biomaterial sectors. Its purpose is to drive innovation and growth from these sectors, to build economic value and contribute to beneficial environmental and social outcomes for New Zealand. In 2013/14, Scion received Crown funding of $17.7 million.

Under the Forest Science theme, Scion’s work includes:

  • forests and climate change – quantifying the role of forests in greenhouse gas mitigation, and evaluating the potential effects of climate change on the environment
  • forest biosecurity – focusing on the exclusion, eradication and effective management of risks to forests and trees posed by insect pests, pathogens and invasive weeds
  • rural fire research – providing specialist fire research expertise in rural and forest landscapes, developing the science and technology to protect life and property, and manage fire in the landscape
  • forest management – enabling forest growers to produce material that meets consumer needs in ways that are cost-effective, efficient and sustainable
  • tree improvement – advancing breeding programmes and deployment strategies for commercial tree species.

The Sustainable Design theme recognises the prominence of sustainability in government policy and in business. Work includes:

  • measuring sustainable design – deploying models of resource use that enable environmental impacts to be measured and monitored so improvements can be made
  • optimising land value – developing new systems and approaches to integrated land management
  • environmental technologies – designing technologies that minimise ecosystem contamination through water recycling, energy reduction, environmental remediation, carbon recovery and conversion of wastes
  • trade and economic development – developing and applying economic forest sector models for forecasting and analysing the impacts of global policy on forest product markets and trade
  • social values – undertaking social science research within selected communities in areas such as sustainable biowastes management, rural fire and biosecurity management, and integrating the findings with environmental and economic research
  • human factors – recognising that the productivity of people is integral to sustainable economic success.

A six-year research programme, Growing Confidence in Forestry’s Future, announced in 2013, is a major new initiative. The programme targets where improvements can be made throughout the growing cycle for current and future forests that will boost productivity under intensified management regimes, while maintaining wood quality and the quality of the environment. This will require a shift from the current low input forest management practices to precision forestry, integrating the latest advances in sensor technology, tree physiology, genetics and forest ecology, while working closely with the industry.

The programme is a joint initiative among Scion, the forest growing industry and the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment. It has been allocated funding of $3.75 million per year from the Ministry and $1.6 million per year from the Forest Growers Levy Trust.

Scion also provides research, science and technology to convert renewable wood and fibre to a range of products and energy. Core areas include:

  • wood–plastic composites
  • wood drying
  • wood modification and preservation
  • timber engineering
  • pulp and paper
  • biotransformation
  • green chemical and biopolymers
  • bioplastics
  • liquid fuels
  • biorefinery pilot plants.

Landcare Research

Landcare Research is another Crown Research Institute with core Crown funding of $24.2 million in 2013/14. Its purpose is to drive innovation in the management of terrestrial biodiversity and land resources. In addition to research undertaken for the Department of Conservation, other important forestry programmes focus on (i) sustainable indigenous forestry, and (ii) physiological growth modelling.

Sustainable indigenous forestry
The main challenge for sustainable indigenous forestry is to extract timber while maintaining or even enhancing the non-extractive benefits of these forests, such as biodiversity, water quality, carbon storage and cultural identity.

Studies of tree recruitment, growth and mortality in indigenous beech forests where low-impact harvesting has occurred have found that, with the correct management systems, the mortality rate for remaining trees does not increase. Beech trees grow very slowly in natural forest, and even-aged stands regenerating from felled forest tend to develop into dense thickets of saplings and pole-sized trees where competition between trees is strong and dominant trees are slow to emerge. The challenge for sustainable forestry is to balance the costs of thinning beech regeneration against the added value provided by the faster growth rates.

An improved understanding of indigenous forest regeneration in the Urewera Ranges of the central North Island is helping tāngata whenua (the indigenous people of New Zealand) restore podocarp forests that were extensively logged last century.

Physiological growth modelling
How fast forests can grow and whether they will grow faster or more slowly as climatic conditions change are important questions for current and future wood supply, and for assessing the potential of forests to sequester carbon to mitigate the effects of climate change. Past assessments using empirical modelling approaches to provide growth estimates have had limited scope and reliability.

New Zealand scientists are now using a physiologically based approach to model the wood growth and carbon storage of radiata pine. The model demonstrates that pine growth is often temperature limited, with optimal growth occurring under the highest temperatures currently found in New Zealand. With climatic warming, stands are therefore likely to grow faster in the cooler parts of the South Island. In contrast, growth is likely to be reduced in the north and in the drier regions on the east coast of both islands, where warming will likely intensify water limitations. However, even these limitations could be overcome through increasing carbon dioxide levels, provided plant responses are as strong as currently seen in experimental observations.

The work has only recently been completed so has yet to be adopted by the forest industry and policymakers. The growth estimates have been used in national-scale assessments of ecosystem services and forests. The model is being used for assessing the rate of soil–carbon changes after land use change and for modelling the growth of kānuka and mānuka stands.

School of Forestry, University of Canterbury

Research is undertaken within the following four clusters:

  • sustainable land management – better understanding the interaction among economic use, biodiversity conservation and pest management within primary production systems, in order to sustain New Zealand’s unique and endemic biodiversity
  • forest engineering – improving the operational performance of the New Zealand forest industry (optimising economic performance while ensuring physical feasibility and social acceptability)
  • forest variability – understanding the reduced variability in the forest resource, which increases the risks to forest growers and processors
  • forestry as a business – understanding the economic value of forests managed for timber, as well as other products and services.

Department of Conservation

The Department of Conservation (DOC) has administrative and management responsibility for most of New Zealand’s indigenous forest area. The primary objective of that management is biodiversity conservation, but recreation also features prominently, along with cultural and historical considerations in some areas. Research and technological developments currently focus on ecological threat management. Three broad initiatives have dominated DOC’s forest science, research and technological development over the past five years. They cover carbon storage in indigenous forests, improved management of threats from introduced browsing and predatory mammals, and biodiversity inventory and monitoring.

A $1.2 million five-year research programme on the impacts of introduced ungulates and possums and their management on carbon sequestration has recently been completed for DOC by Landcare Research Ltd.

A second and major focus of DOC forest research and development is aimed at management of introduced pest mammals. Rodents, particularly ship rats (Rattus rattus), and stoats (Mustela erminea) undergo periodic population irruptions in response to masting events of the southern beech species. Without management, these events are cumulatively threatening the survival of several vertebrate species. In addition to the development of new traps, toxins and delivery systems, research effort is also focused on improving wide-scale control tools such as the aerial application of toxins targeting these animals as well as possums (Trichosurus vulpecula). Besides being predators, possums are also vectors of bovine tuberculosis, as well as major defoliators and agents of stand-level dieback and canopy collapse of many indigenous tree species. Possum control with minimised non-target effects is therefore an important research and development goal.

The national Biodiversity Monitoring and Reporting System has been developed by DOC and Landcare Research Ltd over the past seven years (2007–14). The objective is a consistent approach to monitoring and reporting on the state of, and trends in, ecological integrity in terrestrial, freshwater and marine environments, but its major application to date has been to forest and non-forest lands. The whole system is designed around three “tiers”, which operate at different scales with varying levels of detail and coverage.

Tier 1 monitoring samples all public conservation land, and potentially the whole of New Zealand, through regular assessment of a selection of native species and pests (including game animals) at 2500 locations (1405 are on public conservation land) 8 kilometres apart and spaced evenly across the landscape. It provides both unbiased, repeatable indicators of ecological integrity across all public conservation land and waters managed by DOC, and other national-level information collected through desktop exercises and other targeted field-based programmes.

Tier 2 monitoring involves consistent, rigorous monitoring of results and outcomes for ecosystems and species that are managed. Tier 3 monitoring involves intensive research and biodiversity measurement at a few important sites distributed throughout New Zealand. (See indicators 1.2.a and
7.5.c for further information.)

Ministry for Primary Industries

The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) administers two programmes that offer funding for research related to the primary sectors.

The goal of the Primary Growth Partnership (PGP) is to encourage more private investment in existing and new research and development in New Zealand, which is low by Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development standards. PGP programmes are primarily business-led and market driven innovation programmes that are jointly funded by government and industry. They focus on boosting productivity and profitability, and delivering long-term economic growth and sustainability across the primary sectors.

Of the 18 announced PGP programmes, three involve the forestry sector and total $79 million (from government and industry). They concern:

  • steepland harvesting – with the focus on development of a steep-slope, feller-buncher
  • methyl bromide reduction – the aim is to reduce its use for quarantine and pre-shipment fumigation of exported forest (and horticultural) products, and eventually replace it with alternative treatments
  • forest waste to liquid fuels – investigating how to generate more value from forestry waste by converting it to liquid biofuels.

The Sustainable Farming Fund (SFF) supports “communities of interest” to undertake research and extension projects that tackle a shared problem or develop a new opportunity in the primary sectors. Most projects leverage a high proportion of other funding or in-kind support to complement the SFF grant.

Between 2010 and 2014, there were 30 forestry- related projects with SFF funding.


New Zealand has a long history of high-quality forest research involving Crown Research Institutes and universities. Research and technologies for sustainable planted forest management are extensive and continue to be developed. For the indigenous conservation estate, research is focused on biodiversity and management of threats from introduced pests.

New government initiatives that include forestry research are the National Science Challenges for collaborative mission-led research, the Primary Growth Partnership to encourage more private investment in research and development, and the Sustainable Farming Fund to support communities of interest to undertake research and extension projects.

Trend Status

Data Quality H

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