Wellington Regional Council is to call for tenders for cutting rights at its 5,600 hectares of forestry land in the upper reaches of the Hutt Valley and Wairarapa.
Councillors approved the decision at a meeting last week.
The sale would affect the trees only and would have no impact on the regional council’s ownership of the land or public access.
Chair Fran Wilde said public consultation on the matter during preparation of the last long-term plan had found that nearly 60 per cent of submitters favoured the upfront sale of the trees, rather than selling as it does now after harvest.
“Forestry is not our core business – the trees were planted to control soil erosion – so the prudent thing to do is remove the risk of long-term exposure to the ups and downs of world timber prices. A sale of cutting rights up front will also have the added benefit of allowing us to pay off debt.”
Ms Wilde said a successful tenderer would have to submit a detailed harvesting and environmental plan to ensure that the clearing of slopes did not create potential slips.
Cutting rights would be for 60 years, which would allow for at least two “rotations”, or cutting cycles. A condition of the sale would be that cleared land was always replanted within a specified period – even if the trees would not be mature enough to fell before the end of the 60 years.
The winning tenderer would have to maintain roads inside the blocks and carry out prescribed amounts of tree pruning, as well as replant at levels defined by climate change legislation.
Ms Wilde said the regional council, as landowner, holds carbon credits through the emission trading scheme. It could choose to pass on future credits to the successful tenderer.
After the appointment of legal and marketing advisers, the regional council could expect to prepare sale documents by June next year and receive tenders by September. A sale could be completed by June 2014.
The forests are predominantly pine trees, with small amounts of macrocarpa, douglas fir and eucalypts. There are 1,805 hectares in Wairarapa, at blocks in Stoney Creek, Hiwinui and Tauanui. There are 3,822 hectares in the Wellington metropolitan are, including at blocks in Puketiro, Valley View, Pakuratahi East and West, Maungakotukutuku and Whakatikei.