Over the past three years ratepayer-funded Tūpuna Maunga Authority has been on a mission to rid Auckland’s volcanic cones (maunga) of exotic trees – some 2500 in all.
In defending its actions, the Authority claims it will replace them with thousands more natives, giving the impression it will “cloak” the maunga in trees.
Yet it has become clear there is no intention to return the volcanic cones to their lush pre-human state. Instead, it has become evident the intended effect is to create barren environments that look like the pā sites of 1840. It is interesting symbolism given those mountain-top pā sites were historically used during times of war.
E-Local recently checked out several maunga to see how the planting is coming along.
Ōwairaka / Mt Albert
Anna Radford, from the Honour the Maunga tree protection group, says Tūpuna Maunga Authority claims 13,000 native plantings will go there, to replace the 345 exotic trees it intends to fell.
“The current results are underwhelming to say the least,” she says.
The Authority recently advised 5180 native plants had gone in at Ōwairaka since 2019 but Honour the Maunga counted around 1500 - 3680 short of what was apparently planted.
“We know many died, and we know of gaps between what the Authority says was planted, and what was actually planted. For example, they told us there were 235 plantings this year, but we counted around 40.
“Either way, it’s a huge waste of ratepayers’ money and won’t come close to replacing the carbon sequestration, climate management, amenity value and wildlife habitats if they fell the exotic trees.”
Radford says nearly all of the past three years’ native plantings are low-growing species, with only three species having the potential to grow to 10 m or more at maturity.
By comparison, nearly all of Ōwairaka’s doomed exotic trees are 10 – 30 metres in height. For example, its oaks can grow to 20 m, flame trees to 20m, eucalyptus to 30 m and poplars to 30 m.
“Replacing hundreds of very high trees with mostly grasses, flaxes and shrubs is cynical and environmentally harmful.”
She goes on to observe that destroying the trees also means destroying Ōwairaka’s designated Special Ecological Area: “It can never be reinstated with the current planting plans”.
Furthermore, Tūpuna Maunga Authority has so far spent $16,760 on Owairaka’s plantings – a meagre revegetation budget when compared with an estimated cost of more than $1.1 million to fell Ōwairaka’s exotic trees, including a budget of $30,000 for helicopter removal of an individual tree.
Radford notes the Authority’s plans show no plantings are intended for the areas where the exotic trees currently are, so her group’s tree-saving efforts have not hindered the native planting programme. This appears to be the case at other maunga too.
Mt Richmond / Ōtāhuhu
Shirley Waru (Te Rarawa o Ngāpui / Te Uri o Tai) leads Respect Mt Richmond / Ōtāhuhu, which recently announced its intention to occupy that maunga when the chainsaws come out for its 443 exotic trees – 75% of the entire tree cover.
She says the Authority has already done one round of felling when it destroyed a stunning grove of around 100 old olive trees in 2019, leaving dry, barren eroding ground in their wake.
“The ruru (moreporks) left and never returned. Now they want to come back and wreck the rest of the forest.”
Over the past two years the Authority has planted several thousand native plants there but – as is the case elsewhere - they are low-growing, rather than tall tree species.
Although the maunga has plenty of empty space, all of the plantings are on one of the rugby league fields.
Waru asked the Authority why they were planting there and was told it was because the ground was sinking so the field was about to be decommissioned anyway. She sourced the geotechnical report, which showed there was no subsidence of consequence.
“I caught them out lying. Planting on that field feels petty and vindictive to me. Worse still, it has taken yet another much needed facility away from our already under-resourced local community.”
Waru says removing so many trees at the maunga will be devastating to wildlife and people alike because the area already has among the lowest urban forest canopy cover in Tāmaki Makaurau / Auckland.
“A 2018 Auckland Council survey showed this area was down to only 8% tree canopy cover – and that was before the Authority felled the olive grove here and chopped down 153 exotic trees on nearby Māngere maunga. And it was also before the intensive housing developments that have since sprung up in the neighbourhood.”
Waru says the local community comprises many Māori and Pasifika peoples, who have precious little access to green spaces as it is so this maunga is precious to them.
A grim picture on other maunga
The Authority’s planting picture is similar at other volcanic cones, with bare-looking Mangere, Mt Wellington and Pigeon Mountain already having lost their exotic trees. Native plantings there are inevitably on the lower slopes or on nearby lands rather than the maunga themselves.
Concerningly, all of the Authority’s plantings are preceded by heavy applications of herbicide. Some residents living adjacent to Pigeon Mountain / Ōhuiarangi reported becoming ill after the Authority’s contractors sprayed there earlier this year. Worryingly, the Authority subsequently went on to breach its own spray policy and held school planting days there within the withholding period.
Radford and Waru both question the Authority’s environmental stewardship of Auckland’s maunga.
Shirley Waru explains: “The Authority is not exercising kaitiakitanga (guardianship) over the maunga if it plans to fell thousands of trees.
“That disrespects Māori culture because kaitiakitanga requires honouring the whakapapa (ancestry) of the maunga themselves and all the kaitiaki such as the birds, native and exotic trees, and other life forms.
“I feel really sad that Tūpuna Maunga Authority is disrespecting the old Māori ways and taking such an environmentally damaging approach – all aided and abetted by Auckland Council who is voting them the budgets to do this.