Trees for our health…

It’s not easy being green…  and especially not in Auckland. The most common  suburban sounds here for the past five years has been the angry buzz of chainsaws. To hear them is bad enough because you know that another beautiful tree is about to  fall because, well it’s in the way of sunlight/developers/over-sized houses.  One third  of the city’s residential trees have been felled in the past five years according to the Tree Council.

Amendments to the Resource Management Act in 2009, which originally introduced changes to tree laws, came into force in January that year and abolished rules for non-protected trees – those not scheduled on district plans.

But this early move by the Key Government was fended off – at least temporarily by Waitakere City Council, North Shore City Council and Auckland Council, using an Environment Court decision from Judge John Jackson to keep the status quo.

But finally blanket protections on trees were lifted and 90 per cent of trees in residential areas were left unprotected, many of them now history.

But good news of a sort has wafted up from Wellington, though urban trees are hardly aflutter over it. It’s the news that the new coalition intends to plant one billion trees.  It seems as if  the Coalition initiative might bypass Auckland where once verdant areas like Epsom have been sacrificed in the interests of developers.

‘ …Trees are not just decorative. They’re infrastructure’ says Emanuel Carter, a professor at the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry. And he’s talking about New York, though it could just as well be central Auckland. But in the States volunteers are doing something about it, and in San Francisco  a lobby group lobby  called Canopy  is promoting the virtues of tree cover.

‘Our vision is a day when every resident of this area can walk, play, and thrive under the shade of healthy trees and villas’.

Canopy says ‘trees produce oxygen, intercept airborne particulates, and reduce smog, enhancing a community’s respiratory health. The urban canopy directly contributes to meeting a city’s regulatory clean air requirements. Access to trees, green spaces, and parks promotes greater physical activity, and reduces stress, while improving the quality of life in our cities and towns’.  And adds:

  • Urban landscaping, including trees, helps lower crime rates.
  • Studies show that urban vegetation slows heartbeats, lowers blood pressure, and relaxes brain wave patterns.
  • Trees also mitigate climate change by sequestering carbon (CO2) and  reducing the overall concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

A billion trees? Not enough – we need more. That,  plus political imagination expansive enough to acknowledge trees as infrastructure.

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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.