Pre-European Māori investigated the medicinal properties of New Zealand’s native trees, and their suitability as building materials. Later, European explorers and botanists also researched native forests.
Managing forest resources
In the early 20th century scientific research on how to manage New Zealand’s forests as a commercial resource began, including:
- pulp and papermaking trials of native woods, carried out in the US
- timber-strength testing at Auckland and Canterbury colleges
- description of the taxonomy of native conifers at Victoria University College
- investigation into forest insect pests by the Cawthron Institute, Nelson.
Researchers also began experimenting with fast-growing exotic tree species. Their aim was to establish exotic plantation forests instead of continuing to cut down native forests.
A 1920 report to Parliament stated that to fully utilise native forests, improved management was needed. It recommended researching the pulping qualities of native timbers and investigating whether a cheap motor fuel could be created from the distillation of waste wood.
Forest research stations
In 1947 the Forest Experiment Station (later renamed the Forest Research Institute) was set up at Rotorua to coordinate Forest Service research. Nine years later the Forest and Range Experiment Station was established at Rangiora, Canterbury, to research South Island forestry issues.
The Forest Service was disestablished in 1987 and its research resources became part of the new Ministry of Forestry. Further reform of the science sector led to the formation of Crown research institutes (CRIs) in 1992, and the Forest Research Institute (FRI) became a stand-alone business. Some staff, including scientists working on land protection and animal pests, transferred to CRI Landcare Research.
In 2005 FRI changed its name to Scion, having expanded its activities into the development of biomaterials (combining wood and other fibres with synthetics).
Reduced government funding for research, and the ‘user-pays’ philosophy, has meant that forestry scientists need to make their research commercially relevant.