Forests Act 1949 summary

If you’re planting new indigenous (native) forest on your land, the Forests Act doesn’t apply to you. But if you have existing native or regenerating forest on your land, and want to harvest the timber, you need to know your obligations under the Act.

About the Forests Act

The harvesting, milling, and exporting of indigenous (native) timber is managed under Part 3A of the Forests Act 1949. Where timber is milled from privately-owned existing or regenerating native (indigenous) forests, the Forests Act requires it's managed and harvested sustainably.

Te Uru Rākau (Forestry New Zealand) administers the Forests Act.

What the Forests Act covers

The Forests Act applies only to indigenous (native) forests on private land, and covers the harvesting, milling, and exporting of native timber from existing or regenerating native forest.

Indigenous forest land is defined under the Act as “land wholly or predominantly under the cover of indigenous [native] flora”. The rules under the Forests Act are different for planted native (indigenous) forest than for existing natural native forest.

The Act recognises landowners have the right to get an economic return from their privately-owned asset, but also identifies their responsibility to maintain a healthy forest and functioning ecosystem.

If you're planting new native forest

  • The Forests Act doesn’t apply to planted indigenous (native) forest, and the timber from these forests can be legally milled and exported.
  • If you’re planting native trees for harvest, or you think you might want to harvest them in the future, you should apply to Te Uru Rākau for a Planted Indigenous Forest Certificate. This certificate is free, and verifies for millers and exporters that your timber comes from an approved source.
  • Other regulations apply if you’re planning to plant new forest. The Resource Management Act (RMA) 1991 applies if you’re clearing vegetation or cutting down trees to prepare your site, so talk to your local council for information on resource consents for this activity.

Apply for a Planted Indigenous Forest Certificate [PDF, 184 KB]

Making an application for resource consent – Ministry for the Environment

If you have existing or regenerating indigenous forest on your land

  • The Forests Act applies if you have existing or regenerating indigenous (native) forest. It requires the forest to be managed sustainably.
    • Sustainable forest management is defined by the Forests Act as "the management of an area of indigenous forest land in a way that maintains the ability of the forest on that land to continue to provide a full range of products and amenities in perpetuity while maintaining the forest's natural values".
  • If you want to harvest or mill native trees from your existing native or regenerating forest in the future, you need to talk to Te Uru Rākau about getting a sustainable forest management permit or plan in place. Getting these permits and plans can take time, and depending on variables you might need to involve a forestry consultant.
  • Te Uru Rākau ensures:
    • the management system used means the forest can provide a full range of products and amenities (honey and some timber, for example) while retaining its natural values
    • harvest rates are set at sustainable levels
    • the unique plant and animal life in forests, and forests’ ability to replenish through natural means, are protected through control of pests and weeds, protection of the soil, and maintenance of water quality.

If you mill indigenous timber at an unregistered sawmill without approval under the Forests Act, penalties include fines of up to $200,000. You can phone us on 0800 00 83 33 to check if a sawmill is registered.

Indigenous forestry standards and guidelines [PDF, 1.4 MB]

Harvesting and milling native timber

If you don't want to harvest your native trees

If you don’t want to harvest your existing or regenerating native forest, there are a number of organisations who can help with funding or advice on managing and conserving your forest.

Supporting indigenous forestry

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