If we track the development of the primary industries in Northland since colonisation there are three broad phases. The first industries were extractive – mining the land for timber and kauri gum. Commodity production followed with farming and later plantation forestry established. Typically these were (and are) monocultures and extraction continues where farms and forests are managed with little consideration of soil carbon. There is an emerging regenerative model that looks to generate primary production in ways that heal the land.
At the forefront of this in forestry is the Northland Totara Working Group (NTWG), founded by Paul Quinlan, Helen Moodie and David Bergan (David and Paul are featured in the photo above). You can access information about their projects and newsletters at Tane’s Tree Trust. There is an impressive amount of science behind their work. They have recently secured a $450,000 Provincial Growth Fund grant to continue their work.
Totara are one of the few trees to thive alongside pasture. When agricultural subsidies stopped, a lot of steep Northland farmland reverted to totara and manuka. Totara has great qualities, it co-exists with pasture and is stock resistant, it regenerates easily, responds to silviculture and has excellent timber properties. It is a revered timber, especially for Maori and has multiple uses. And there is plenty of it! The NTWG estimate there are 205,000 hectares of forest on private land including totara.
Paul Quinlin advocates a “mosaic” approach to land use – rather than impose a monoculture on the land, we identify ideal use based on variables of soil quality, existing cover, topography etc. The NTWG aspires to continuous forest cover. Trees are thinned to promote faster growth for those remaining and selected logs are removed. This avoids the wasted landscapes of plantation harvests with accompanying erosion, soil degradation and soil carbon loss. When harvested trees are removed, those remaining maintain soil cover and their growth accelerates. As totara is a valued timber, it is more likely to remain intact sequestering carbon for many years.
This is a great example of what has been considered by many as a weed, reconceived to be a major asset with multiple values.