Bye Blossoms, G’day Geckos…

In South Auckland’s Ihumatao, a peaceful group of Maori activists continues the campaign it began in 2015. Their aim?  To stop Fletchers building 480 homes on what they believe is sacred land.

And a few miles away in the leafy suburb of Mt Albert early last month, middle-class Pakeha began their protest. They gathered against the Maunga Authority’s decision to fell 345 exotic trees on their beloved mountain. The Authority wants to replace the trees with natives and be rid of  ‘alien’ species. These blossom vividly in Spring, bring colour and visual delight to the mountain –  but they’re not wanted.

Ihumatao is very different. It represents an historic grievance for many Maori who believe the land was seized in 1863 by proclamation and subsequently acquired by the Crown. The land was on-sold privately to settlers and remained as farmland for the next 150 years. Radio New Zealand reported that in 2014, after the ‘Super City’ was formed, the Government and Auckland Council designated 32 hectares adjacent to the Ōtuataua Stonefields Historic Reserve as a Special Housing Area (SHA).

The move disturbed local Maori who among other actions, took their case to the United  Nations which later issued a report recognising that consultation and consent from Māori had not been adequately sought.

In addition it also recommended the Government evaluate the plan’s compliance with the Treaty of Waitangi and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Despite a rebuff from the Environment Court in 2018, and armed with a 20,000 signature petition, the protesters this year called on the Auckland Council and Government to protect the land. And last month the Government appeared to move to in attempt to solve the impasse.

Albertians rose up in protest  with similar justification. The two applicants  for this  resource consent were Tūpuna Maunga o Tāmaki Makaurau Authority and Auckland Council. The   consent stated there was no need for public consultation  – and  its  non-notifiable status was signed off on February 11 this year:

‘The applications should be processed without public notification for the following reasons: In the context of the landscape and visual values of the Maunga, any adverse landscape and visual effects of the proposal are considered to be short term in nature and effectively mitigated by the proposed restoration and replanting such that they can be considered to be less than minor.’

At issue here is the impact of removal of not just a dozen trees, but 345 of them in just 50 days – well, that was the plan. Also at issue was the less than transparent approach to tree felling and security. Police and chainsaws arrived one dawn but protesters were there to meet them and there they remain.

The impression at local body level is that exotics will not be missed because natives will replace them. But native trees take ages to reach maturity. Scientific assessments show that Puriri for example can grow 15 metres in 30 years. After that the rate slows – taking another 30 years to reach 20 metres.

Yet, again and again the Council and its consultants agree that whatever adverse effects might arise, they won’t matter because they’re only short term.

Common sense indicates that the proposed free felling of hundreds of trees will not just lose the very tree cover Auckland so desperately needs, but will dramatically reduce nesting and bird life. If on the other hand the felling was carried out in stages, native replacements could grow under the foliage of exotics.

And if the locals were notified – their democratic right as citizens and ratepayers – then Council and the Authority, might, just might, accept the need for the proposed re-forestation,  if it’s  approached with the right process, one which involves more respect.  Either way, at least the mountain’s lizards – yes, lizards – should be fine, according to one reference in the consent which  says:

‘The environment is considered high value for lizards, and subject to the incorporation of lizard survey to inform the lizard management plan, that any effect on lizards can be managed appropriately…’

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Paul Smith

Paul is a veteran journalist, non-fiction author and writing mentor. He has also served on boards ranging from TVNZ to UNESCO.