Increasing numbers of Aucklanders are turning to environmental activism as concern mounts over Tūpuna Maunga Authority’s plans to destroy 2500 healthy mature trees on the city’s volcanic cones (maunga).
Most Aucklanders had not heard of the Authority until 2019, when it began clear-felling exotic trees on Mangere Mountain, Pigeon Mountain / Ōhuiarangi and Mt Wellington / Maungarei. It was stopped in its tracks by the Honour the Maunga community group, which occupied Ōwairaka / Mt Albert in November 2019 to save 345 trees there.
The ratepayer-funded Authority wants to destroy the trees simply because they are non-native. Although it intends to plant thousands of natives over the coming years, the vast majority are low-growing species such as grasses, flaxes and shrubs – akin to motorway plantings. Very few will become tall trees at maturity, a process that will take 50-100 years. In the meantime, the birds and biota that rely on those trees for homes, food and nesting sites will have to go without.
Honour the Maunga’s leader Anna Radford says she, like most of the group’s members, had never previously partaken in any activism beyond signing petitions and walking in the occasional protest march.
“I felt shock and disbelief when I first learned of the Authority’s plans to destroy Ōwairaka’s trees in the middle of bird nesting season. It broke my heart to think of what that would do to the birds, the other lifeforms and to the maunga itself and I felt compelled to do something to try and stop it.”
Nearly 18 months on and the group has succeeded so far, assisted by legal action undertaken by two members of the public. The ongoing legal action means Ōwairaka’s trees are safe for now, but that is not the case for trees on other maunga.
This is particularly so on Mt Roskill / Puketāpapa, where a non-notified resource consent was recently approved for felling 160 exotic trees (60% of its total tree cover). Worried locals have started patrolling the maunga for signs that felling is imminent, and the Mt Roskill Tree Protectors community group led by 20-year-old Jonathan Subritzky is planning an occupation. Jonathan hails from a longstanding Mt Roskill family and enjoyed playing in local parks as a youngster.
“These lush, green spaces and the memories I made in them enriched my childhood,” he says.
“In this age of increasing urban densification, it is more important than ever that the natural heritage of Auckland’s recreational reserves be maintained and preserved for future generations.
“The graceful, mature trees regarded by some as ‘inappropriate pests’ in fact add profound value to these spaces, and the needless felling of these trees at the behest of arbitrary ideological dictates is a loss for Auckland that future generations will resent and regret.”
Mt Richmond resident Shirley Waru (Te Rarawa o Ngāpui / Te Uri o Tai) agrees: “Auckland is losing trees at a frightening rate, local parks are being sold against community wishes and nearby land is being developed intensively for housing. The green spaces that connect us all to nature are rapidly dwindling, so our community of mostly low socio-economic Māori and Pasifika people needs this beautiful maunga’s green space more than ever,” she says.
Waru leads the Respect Mt Richmond / Otāhūhu group, which is deeply concerned that a pending non-notified resource consent will destroy verdant parklands frequented by kōtuku (grey heron), pīwakawaka (fantail), tūī and many other birds. The Authority plans to fell 473 trees – 75% of that maunga’s entire tree cover – something she is determined to prevent.
“From a Māori perspective, the trees are part of the environment and we have to look after them; they are home for our kaitiaki (guardians) – our birds. It is the natural world, not the Authority, who are the kaitiaki.”
Waru is also concerned about the way Tūpuna Maunga Authority has treated local communities.
She goes on to note that, ironically, it has not followed Tikanga Māori protocols: “The Māori way is to consult by engaging in two-way discussions, especially when it involves major change such as getting rid of all the exotic trees. Yet the Authority refuses to engage with any integrity; communities are being lied to, manipulated and bullied at every stage.”
It makes no sense from either an environmental or Te Ao Māori (Māori world view) perspective to be destroying thousands of healthy mature trees, for no other reason than they are non-native. Auckland Council’s willingness to fund this deeply unpopular environmental destruction when it has declared a climate emergency is baffling to all three tree protection community groups.
“We need more trees, not less, and it’s time for Auckland Council to stop paying lip service to climate change,” says Radford, who notes that Honour the Maunga, Respect Mt Richmond / Otāhūhu and the Mt Roskill Tree Protectors are the only environmental groups committed to safeguarding the maunga trees and the lifeforms they support.
She attributes that in part to the Authority’s racially-charged smear campaign against Honour the Maunga:
“We are motivated by environmental concerns, full stop, and the Authority knows it. Its actions are cynically designed to deflect attention from the questions that need to be asked.
“The Tree Council is actively campaigning against us. Forest & Bird, Greenpeace and the Green Party have all spoken out against us as well, which begs the question: If we don’t stand up for Papatūānuku / Mother Earth, then who will?”
Despite attempts to sideline and silence these maunga tree protection groups, public anger is growing against Auckland Council and Tūpuna Maunga Authority.
“We receive a lot of feedback on this issue, three-quarters of which favours saving the trees,” says Radford.
“Communities are fed up with seeing trees destroyed. This is only the beginning; Auckland Council and Tūpuna Maunga Authority can expect to see more occupations and protests springing up on volcanic cones all over Auckland.”
Maunga land ownership and guardianship complicated and nuanced
A 2014 Treaty settlement gifted the maunga lands to a trust held by a collective of 13 iwi and hapu (Ngā Mana Whenua) but required the lands to be held on trust for “Ngā Mana Whenua and the other people of Auckland”. “The other people” includes Tangata Whenua who were excluded from that settlement. All of the maunga are public reserves, guaranteeing public access.
Ratepayer funded Tūpuna Maunga Authority was established to administer the lands. It is a co-governance body, with equal numbers of iwi and Auckland Council representatives.
The maunga tree protection groups say that in questioning the Authority, they are questioning its Auckland Council members as much – if not more – than anyone.
For more information, visit:
honourthemaunga.org.nz / respectmtrichmond.org.nz
The Māori way is to consult by engaging in two-way discussions, especially when it involves major change such as getting rid of all the exotic trees. Yet the Authority refuses to engage with any integrity; communities are being lied to, manipulated and bullied at every stage.