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Church faces tricky decisions over forest investment

In 1994 the Methodist Church’s Prince Albert College Trust purchased a farming property at Willowford in the foothills of Hawkes Bay’s Kaweka Ranges. It invested in planting a 300 hectare Pinus Radiata forest together with small areas of macrocarpa and eucalyptus.

How are the trees getting on? Prince Albert Trust board members checking out the Trust's forest investment.

The silviculture and thinning programme of the forest has now been completed so in April the Board took the opportunity to hold one of its regular meetings in Napier so that it could include an inspection of the forest.

The PAC Trust has established a long term relationship with the local community going back to the time the Trust sold the house on the farm to the local school committee for removal. With the Trust’s agreement, the school committee left the house on the property for several years moving it just before the surrounding trees would have made the job too difficult.

During the Board’s previous inspections and again this year, the school committee provided four wheel drive transport as well as lunch.

The forest was planted and has been managed with the object of providing high quality timber with pruning to a height of 6.6 metres and it is expected that the forest will be mature and ready for felling after 2020.

The forest is managed for Prince Albert College Trust by professional forester Owen Springford. At the April meeting Owen introduced the concept of growing a forest for carbon credits under the emission trading scheme, rather than for its value as a lumber producer.

The suggestion provoked lively debate among Board member over how the emissions trading scheme would work. Potential difficulties include how the forest would be valued and what the effect would be if the carbon credits were sold during the life of the forest. If Trust decided to harvest the forest, it would have to buy back in carbon credits which may have increased in value.

The Board decided this was a matter that needed to be kept under close investigation and review. The Trust will not become involved in the emissions trading scheme until the benefits and pitfalls are clearer.

During the inspection Owen pointed out areas of silviculture work that had been undertaken by Hawkes Bay prison gangs as part of their work and training programmes. He noted that many prisoners who had worked in the Trust forest had gone on to find meaningful employment in forestry gangs and related areas of work on their release.