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We love our forests

Timber species

Forests and wood

Forestry resources


Sustainable forest management of native tree species in New Zealand

To protect and maintain our native species, careful sustainable management and regulations are in place.

 The indigenous forestry sector in New Zealand

The harvesting of indigenous timbers in New Zealand is now confined to private lands.

Once the mainstay of New Zealand’s timber industry (until the 1950s, indigenous forests were the prime source of domestic timber requirements), the production of indigenous timber has declined.

This is mainly as a result of replacement by plantation timbers, the move to sustainable management of indigenous forests and, recently, because of competition from imported furniture.

Nonetheless, the ongoing sustainable management of private indigenous forests for timber is having substantial sectoral and conservation benefits that are:

  • providing the revenue to protect forests from predators and pests
  • providing for forest enhancement through active management, including regeneration and restocking of canopy and other plant species, and
  • enabling the supply to markets of attractive, high-quality timbers for high-end uses like fine furniture and finishing timbers.

The total production of timbers from sustainable sources is, in 2008, low.

About 25,000 m3 (standing tree volume) or less are felled annually, comprising podocarp like rimu, beech and tawa, all species that are high-quality furniture and finishing timbers.

There is an approved annual sustainable harvest of beech (particularly red and silver beech) that is significantly higher than the present national production of about 15,000 m3.

The indigenous forestry sector is keen to realise the potential of harvesting beech, and is proactive in advancing the sector, both with regard to forest management and timber processing and marketing.

For example, the ministerial Indigenous Forestry Advisory Group provides advice to the Minister of Forestry on issues facing the sector and promoting policy, management and technological advancements within the sector.


Of the 1 million ha of privately owned indigenous forest available for sustainable management, including the production of timber, perhaps one-third has potential for long-term management.

This is once forest with high protection values and priorities, significant natural areas, and forest with no or little commercial timber trees present, are taken into account.

As such, the indigenous timber sector in New Zealand will be small but unique, supplying top-end decorative and special-purpose timbers where utility timbers, like our ever-present pine, are unsuitable or inappropriate, or importantly there is an attractive alternative.

To this end, users should appreciate that New Zealand indigenous timbers now mainly come from sustainably managed forests, are produced in accordance with Part 3A of the Forests Act 1949 and are legal under New Zealand law.

The major indigenous tree species in these forests are beech (silver and red), rimu and tawa. Kauri, matai, totara, miro, black beech, hard beech, rewarewa, hinau and a range of other minor species are available intermittently.


SFM Plans

MPI standards and guidelines for sustainable management of New Zealand indigenous forests have been developed to reflect the statutory requirements under Part 3A of the Forests Act 1949, and specify structured indigenous forestry standards for approval and administration of SFM plans and permits.

SFM plans have a 50-year term, providing for long-term management of the forest environment.

Each criterion and subset of goals, indicators and standards provides guidance on how MPI will apply the provisions of the Forests Act 1949.

SFM permits have a 10-year term and provide for a one-off harvest. In 2008, approved and registered sustainable forest management plans provide for about 80,000 m3 of standing timber annually.

Forests Act 1949

The Forests Act 1949 was amended in 1993 (Part 3A was inserted) to bring an end to unsustainable harvesting and clear felling of indigenous forest.

Under the Act, indigenous timber can only be produced from forests that are managed in a way that maintains continuous forest cover and ecological balance. Management systems ensure that the forests continuously provide a full range of products and amenities, in perpetuity, while retaining their natural values. Only single trees and small groups of trees can be felled for timber production.

‘Sustainable forest management’ is defined in section 2 of the Forests Act 1949 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.

The Act recognises the many values of indigenous forests, including flora and fauna, soil and water-quality protection, amenity and commercial timber values.

As such, it envisages both the retention of forests in their present extent and, ultimately, the enhancement of indigenous forest values.

The Act recognises the rights of landowners to obtain an economic return from a privately owned asset, yet identifies their responsibility to maintain a healthy forest and functioning ecosystem, with the aim of achieving an appropriate balance between productive use and maintenance of forests’ natural values.

The principles expressed in the Forests Act 1949 are consistent with key elements of international initiatives to which the New Zealand government is a signatory, such as the Montreal Process on Criteria and Indicators of Sustainable Forest Management (SFM).

Landowners and forest managers seeking approvals for SFM plans and permits must comply with the indigenous forestry provisions (Part 3A) of the Forests Act 1949.

This covers the sustainable management of indigenous forests and other harvesting options, and places controls on the milling and exporting of timber from indigenous forests.

There are provisions for milling minor quantities of timber where a plan or permit is not in place, for example, naturally dead, wind thrown and salvaged timber, and timber approved for harvesting and milling for an owner’s personal use.

The Forests Act 1949 is administered by the Ministry of Primary Industries (MPI).


Forests are home to 70 percent of the world’s land-based animals and plant life.

New Zealand’s indigenous forests are complex and unique, and occupy 6.4 million ha (or 24 percent) of New Zealand’s total land area of 27 million ha.

There are 1 million ha of privately owned indigenous forests, and the rest, over 80 percent of our indigenous forest, is either in the Conservation estate, under covenant or held in other land tenures that are unavailable for management for timber.

In 2002, the harvesting of timber from New Zealand’s Crown-owned indigenous forests, already reduced to a few locations, ceased entirely in accordance with government policy.

This is so that indigenous timber can only be legally produced from indigenous plantation forests and privately owned forests that are managed on a sustainable basis.

The sustainable management of these forests will provide benefits to society while conserving their unique biodiversity. The purpose is to manage the forests to ensure they retain their character, structure, biodiversity and continue to regenerate, while still allowing private landowners options in order to harvest and mill timber for profit.

While timber extraction inevitably results in some modification of the forest, the goal of sustainable management under New Zealand law is to manage impacts within acceptable ecological limits so that a healthy functioning forest ecosystem is maintained in perpetuity both for the nation and as an economic resource for the owner.