There are many biodiversity, landscape, cultural and social benefits of establishing and sustainably managing native forests. Non-Timber Values (NTVs) are listed under the following categories:
There are widely differing methods for quantifying NTVs, often involving subjective judgments with caveats and extrapolation from site-specific examples, resulting in wide margins of error. There is the conundrum of ‘valuing the invaluable’, i.e., NTVs without direct material benefits, but important, nonetheless. Ideally, NTVs should be determined on a site-specific basis, with stakeholder engagement, and qualitative values included in addition to quantitative. For more information on NTVs refer to Non-timber values in native forest (2021).
1. Non-timber forest products (NTFPs)
Also known as secondary forest products, NTFPs include useful materials obtained from forests that do not require the harvesting of entire trees. Apart from the honey, sphagnum moss, and mānuka oil industries, there is limited information available on economic values for most NTFPs because these industries are not well developed in NZ.
While most NTFP industries are small-scale, they are important for supporting local economic activity, and are often culturally important (MPI 2015). Their importance has increased due to the COVID-19 pandemic shaping consumer trends with an increased focus on overall health and wellness, connections with Nature and self-sufficiency.
NTFPs in native forests are comprehensively described in Aimers et al (2021).
Honey production and other bee products
- Native forest species provide early season nectar flow and pollen, vital for the honey industry, providing opportunities for partnerships between apiarists and landowners.
- NZ is the world’s second-largest honey exporter, mostly driven by mānuka honey. Average export prices per kg in 2021 are expected to be about $55 for mono-floral mānuka honey, below $30 for multi-floral mānuka honey, and below $20 for non-mānuka honey (MPI 2020).
- The mānuka honey industry is a good land-use option for marginal land and environmentally sensitive catchments. Economic returns compare favourably with other land-uses.
- Monofloral honey has also been developed for other native species, e.g., kānuka, rātā, tāwari, rewarewa, kamahi, and honeydew from beech forests. There are also markets for propolis and beeswax.
Rongoā, pharmaceuticals and natural remedies
- There is a resurgence in the use of native plants for medicinal, natural health remedies and skin-care products, e.g., mānuka and kānuka oils, mānuka honey, kawakawa, and totarol (derived from totara), which all have anti-microbial effects and other medicinal properties.
- The natural pharmaceutical properties of mānuka and kānuka oils are becoming increasingly recognised. Growers can obtain $500 - $600 per tonne for raw foliage for mānuka oil extraction (Te Puni Kōkiri 2021).
- Harakeke seed is used for production of NZ flaxseed oil, which has high nutritional value and is also good for skin health if applied externally.
Non-timber traditional crafts
- Four of the six natural fibres used by Māori for traditional crafts come from native forests, forest margins and wetlands - harakeke, tī kōuka, tōī (mountain cabbage tree), and kiekie.
- There is a resurgence in interest in natural fibres, and speculation about the revival of NZ’s once thriving flax industry.
Forest understory crops
- Exotic understory crops (e.g., ginseng, truffles) could undermine the aesthetic character of native forests. However, there is potential for growing crops of native species for culinary and medicinal purposes.
- The economics of growing kawakawa as an understory crop has been investigated. Prices of dried kawakawa typically range between NZ$75 and NZ$300 per kg. Revenue is highly variable due to the small market size.
- Sphagnum moss, worth over $5 million per year in exports, is important for Westland’s economy.
Genetic resources and germplasm conservation
- An often overlooked NTV, genetic resources of native species are valuable to human well-being and current and future developments in knowledge, e.g., species important for pharmaceuticals.
Wild foods, freshwater fisheries, hunting and trapping of wild game
- Hunting of wild game in forests (mostly wild pigs and deer) and trapping of possums are important activities for many rural communities.
- Possums are trapped or shot for fur, pelts, and meat for pet food, which provides revenue and helps with pest control.
- Wild foods are culturally important and increasingly being used in contemporary NZ cuisine, e.g., huhu grubs, whitebait, eel, koura, pikopiko, horopito, and harore (bush mushrooms). These species are directly or indirectly dependent on native forest.
- Many native plants are suitable for animal fodder, including harakeke, koromiko, houhere or lacebark, karamu, wineberry, and kanono.
- However, native plants should only be used judiciously and sustainably for animal fodder. Note that all native species found on conservation land, including any plant material, are protected by law.
2. Environmental regulating services
Our economy relies heavily on forests for environmental regulating services. However, these services are usually not monetarised and are widely regarded as a ‘gift of nature’ - other than carbon sequestration.
Environmental NTVs are increasingly important in an era of climate change and high land-use intensity (OECD 2017), and there is a growing call for them to be treated as quantifiable assets. The Climate Change Commission recommended incentives for landowners to establish native forest, linked to carbon removals or to broader ecosystem services (Climate Change Commission 2021). This would encourage afforestation, and retention and protection of existing native forests.
Habitat provision and biodiversity values are pivotal, i.e., actions to increase biodiversity values are likely to concurrently improve most other NTVs.
More information on environmental regulating services is provided in Aimers et al (2021).
- The only environmental service that is currently readily monetarised, via the NZ Emissions Trading Scheme.
- Forest growers with more than 100 ha are required to use the Field Measurement Approach for determining carbon sequestration, whereas small forest owners can use the look-up tables. However, it is questionable how reliable the look-up tables are for planted native forest as they are based on regenerating shrublands, which have less carbon storage capacity than taller forests (Kimberley 2021).
- Tāne’s Tree Trust determined carbon sequestration rates for planted native tree and shrub species, based on used measurements taken throughout NZ. A carbon calculator was subsequently developed and it demonstrates a much greater capacity for carbon storage in planted native forest than the look-up tables. Therefore, those using the field management approach could earn significantly more carbon units compared with the look-up tables.
Habitat provision and biodiversity values
- Native forests support a greater biodiversity of indigenous fauna and flora than any other type of forest, with fruit and nectar feeders dependent on native forest for habitat.
- Some forest ecosystems are poorly represented in public conservation land, particularly lowland forest, wetland-forest complexes, and coastal forest ecosystems. Native forest and regenerating ecosystems on private land are important for biodiversity conservation.
- Habitat provision and biodiversity values are difficult to monetarise. However, there is a compelling argument for compensating landowners who safeguard biodiversity in the wider public interest.
Urban forest environmental services – air and water quality, etc
- Urban forests provide a wide range of environmental services - protecting air and water quality, storm-water management, flood and erosion control, wind breaks, noise reduction, shade, reduced urban heat island effect, carbon sequestration, and enhanced biodiversity.
- These services are increasingly important in an era of climate change – particularly shade provision and the cooling effect of trees (due to evapotranspiration) reducing sunburn and heat stroke; and green infrastructure moderating the impact of severe weather events.
- International cost:benefit analyses show that urban trees have significant economic value.
Soil stabilisation, reduction of erosion, and catchment protection
- Forests are vital for stabilising soils, moderating water flows, and protecting downstream ecosystems and infrastructures from sedimentation and flood events – all the more important in an era of climate change.
- Various studies have estimated the annual cost of erosion in NZ, ranging from $128 to $272 million in 2021-dollar values (adjusted for inflation). Grants for planting erosion-prone land also indicate value (society’s willingness to pay) for this NTV, e.g., $34 million in the 2018 round of the Hill Country Erosion Fund.
- Research shows that the area of soil eroded by storms is 50% to 90% less where there is native forest, compared with pastureland; and permanent native forest is better at protecting erodible land than clear-fell plantation regimes.
Coastal forest buffers
- Coastal forest buffers are an important part of coastal ecosystems that protect inland productive land, infrastructures, and natural ecosystems against salt and wind, preventing erosion and helping mitigate the impact of climate change.
- Unfortunately, natural coastal vegetation has been cleared from much of our coastline, with almost total removal of dune forest.
- The only ecosystem service that could potentially be negative, i.e., water yield from forested areas can potentially be lower than for other land uses in a catchment. This could be an issue in arid or semi-arid climates, where there are downstream water shortages.
- There is currently limited information on forests and water yield in NZ. There are varying views, ranging from a perceived negative impact of planted forests on water yield in water-sensitive catchments to a perceived positive impact of water storage during wetter months and supply of water in drier months.
Nutrient regulation and water quality
- Freshwater resources are a vital natural asset under increasing threat due to pollution linked to the intensification of land use (OECD 2017).
- Forests have very low nutrient leaching compared with pastoral agriculture, and also recycle excess nutrients from intensive agriculture.
- This NTV currently has no direct market value in most of NZ but has implicit value as regional councils increasingly apply regulations to protect water quality (Essential Freshwater).
- In two catchments (Lake Rotorua and Lake Taupo) there is nutrient capping, nutrient trading and restrictions preventing intensification of land use.
- Vitally important for the horticultural sector, particularly kiwifruit, apples, avocados, stone-fruit and blueberries.
- The apiculture industry has a strong reliance on native forest, particularly for early season nectar flow and pollen, critical for building up bee colonies.
- Native forest also provides habitat for native pollinators.
Green fire breaks and risk reduction
- Intense, large wildfires are predicted to become more common in parts of NZ (NIWA 2016).
- Fire-regulating disservices occur where fire risk is increased, e.g., via creation of monocultures of highly flammable species, such as gorse, and plantations of eucalypts, mānuka, kānuka, and some conifer species.
- Green firebreaks comprised of low-flammability species can be strategically placed to reduce fire risk. Many (but not all!) native forest species have low flammability and are suitable for green firebreaks.
- Healthy native forest with a dense understory is resistant to all but the most intense fires, i.e., pest control and fencing protects the understory, increasing fire resistance.
Flood protection and green infrastructure
- Forests and wetlands help moderate the impact of severe weather events. Forest intercepts rainfall, and riparian vegetation reduces water directly flowing into waterways. When land is deforested, run-off increases markedly, increasing floods and low flows.
- Green infrastructure is created by strategically retaining natural vegetation, or by planting trees and restoring wetlands, as opposed to creating manmade infrastructures. It takes pressure off stormwater systems alleviating flooding and protecting water quality, and often performs more effectively and at a much lower cost than manmade infrastructures (Forest Research 2010).
3. Socioeconomic, cultural and spiritual services
These NTVs are difficult to monetarise because there are often no direct material benefits - the conundrum of ‘valuing the invaluable’. The socio-cultural approach to valuation may be appropriate, i.e., the values that society attributes, rather than monetary values.
In Manaaki Whenua’s 2019 Survey of Rural Decision Makers, non-foresters were asked for their reasons for planting trees in the near future. The most popular reasons were non-monetary – with aesthetic-landscape values, personal well-being/spiritual/cultural values, and kaitiaki/guardianship among the most popular reasons.
Native forest is important for our cultural and spiritual values, international reputation and tourism. More information on socioeconomic, cultural and spiritual NTVs is provided in Aimers et al (2021).
Cultural and spiritual values linked with native forests
- Native forests and the indigenous species they support are important to tūrangawaewae (our sense of place), and for maintaining the mauri (life force) of freshwater ecosystems.
- The principles of whakapapa (mapping of relationships, genealogical lines) and kaitiakitanga (guardianship) imply a deep connection between all living things.
- Our identity suffers when native species become locally extinct, natural ecosystems are degraded, and recreational opportunities and connections with Nature are lost.
- Māori have had to adjust to loss of large areas of native forest. Waitangi Tribunal report Wai 262 highlights the importance of accessibility to natural resources for cultural identity, health and well-being. This includes materials for traditional crafts and medicine (rongoā).
Native forests and tourism (including ecotourism)
- Pre-COVID-19, tourism was our biggest industry and a major means of employment.
- Native forests provide the ambient environment, scenic values, and general amenity functions important for tourism, as well as environmental services for water quality. But it is difficult to economically quantify how much native forest contributes to tourism.
- Nature-based tourism (ecotourism) is increasingly important for overseas and domestic tourism. Many ecotourism ventures are based in native forests, e.g., Rotorua Canopy Tours, Sanctuary Mountain Maungatautari, Zealandia, Orokonui Ecosanctuary, and Foris Eco-tours.
Kaitiakitanga and conservation of native species
- Our indigenous biodiversity is essential to our culture, identity, and well-being. We call ourselves ‘Kiwis’ and proudly display the native silver fern (ponga) as a national symbol.
- Nature-based activities and involvement in conservation efforts are culturally and spiritually important to many NZers, increasing health and well-being and unifying communities. Kaitiakitanga - guardianship of natural resources, is a guiding principle.
- Economist Dr Richard Yao and colleagues have researched the value of species conservation in NZ, as described in Aimers et al (2021).
Forests and outdoor recreation
- NZ is internationally renowned for its outdoor recreation activities – this includes hiking, walking, tramping, mountain biking, horse trekking, kayaking, hunting, and fishing.
- Nationwide surveys show that spending time outdoors is important for most NZers, with forests featured highly in areas visited. Outdoor recreation is also important for tourism.
- The economic value of this NTV is hard to determine, except via stakeholder surveys, or quantifying costs associated with travel and equipment, and time off work, etc.
Hunting, fishing, forest foraging and wild foods
- Forests are critical for hunting, foraging, and fishing as they provide the habitat for wild foods and ecosystem services that support clean waterways.
- Hunting, fishing and gathering wild food are traditional ways of life, important for household subsistence and maintenance of cultural and familial traditions in many rural areas.
- Wild foods are increasingly important for NZ’s food identity. The growing profile of indigenous cuisine has created new markets, but the value of this market is unknown.
New Zealand landscapes, native forests and aesthetic values
- International research identifies the importance of natural forest and waterways in aesthetic landscape values and associated positive effects on wellbeing. But this is hard to quantify.
- In a 2019 Survey of Rural Decision Makers, non-foresters were asked for their reasons for planting trees in the near future. The most popular reason was aesthetic-landscape values.
- Evidence of preference for native forests rather than exotic plantations in landscapes is provided by district and regional plans. Native forests are mapped in many significant landscape designations in district and regional plans throughout NZ.
Native trees, green space and human well-being in urban areas
- Urban forests are the primary form of contact with Nature for many people. International research provides evidence on the benefits of spending time in Nature for mental health and well-being, quality of life and social capital. Urban trees also increase property values.
- Native species underpin our unique sense of place and cultural values, and are important for tourism and international perceptions.
Forest-based livelihoods and training opportunities
- There is limited information on how different types of forests and forestry management practices affect forest-based livelihoods and local economies in NZ.
- Types of businesses, employment and educational opportunities associated with native forest are described in Aimers et al (2021) and include industries based on forest products (including non-timber forest products), ecotourism, outdoor activities, native nurseries, and forestation and conservation projects.
Forests, brand image, political and commercial reputations
- Native forests play an important role in NZ’s ‘clean, green’ and ‘100% pure’ destination branding, via NTVs linked to scenic values, tourism, outdoor recreation, and water quality.
- Native species are vital to our identity and international reputation. The silver fern is a national symbol that is on our one-dollar coin and in the branding of many NZ sports teams.
- Tourism and agricultural exports are the top economic drivers of our economy. Billions could be lost in revenue if worldwide perceptions of our environment worsened.
- Green branding, environmental consciousness, social license to practise, and developing good working relationships with regulatory authorities are becoming increasingly important.