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Ōwairaka Tree Protectors Celebrate One Year On The Maunga

The Honour the Maunga tree protection group is celebrating the first anniversary of its ongoing presence on Ōwairaka / Mt Albert.

A pōwhiri will be held on the maunga (6 – 8 pm, Wednesday 11 November at the top of Summit Drive, Mt Albert*) to mark the occasion, and to plant a native tree in honour of a supporter who recently passed away.

The community group formed over concern about the environmental effect of Tūpuna Maunga Authority’s plans to fell 345 healthy, mature exotic trees on the maunga – nearly half of its tree cover.

To date Honour the Maunga – aided by a judicial review initiated by a couple who are not part of the group – has succeeded in saving all of the trees and the lifeforms they support.

The Judicial Review application against Tūpuna Maunga Authority and Auckland Council was heard in Auckland High Court on 8-9 June, although Justice Sheryl Gwyn has yet to deliver her decision.

In all, the Authority (funded by Auckland Council) plans to fell around 2500 exotic trees from Auckland’s volcanic cones (maunga). It had already destroyed more than 500 trees on other volcanic cones when its tree-felling plans were brought to a halt by Honour the Maunga on 11 November 2019.

Spokesperson Anna Radford says it has been a challenging yet rewarding year for the group: “The Authority has done everything it could to discredit Honour the Maunga, including conducting a smear campaign against us and removing our unoccupied campsite in the middle of the night during the Covid Level 4 lockdown,” she says.

“All that did was to garner us more support, and made us stronger and even more determined to do whatever it takes to protect this beautiful maunga’s trees and the lifeforms they support.

“Despite how the Authority has tried to portray us, we are not a group of racist radicals; we are a mixed race group of everyday people who love Ōwairaka / Mt Albert and care deeply about its environment – so deeply that we have toughed it out rain, hail and shine for a whole year.”

Honour the Maunga initially occupied Tūpuna Maunga Authority-administered land around the clock but moved to the other side of the domain gates after the first Covid lockdown, where it maintains a daily presence.

Ms Radford says the group relocated just outside Authority-administered land to take some heat out of what was becoming an increasingly fraught situation thanks to the Authority’s campaign of spreading racially-based misinformation about it.

“Ōwairaka / Mt Albert is designated as a Special Ecological Area under the Auckland Unitary Plan. This is an environmental issue and to try and misrepresent it as a racial one is a deliberate distraction from the conversations that need to be had about protecting Auckland’s rapidly-diminishing urban forests.

“It is also a deliberate distraction from conversations that need to be held about how ratepayer-funded co-governance organisations engage with local communities.”

Ms Radford says the maunga tree debate has become highly politicised, so much so that ecology is being idealised into a simplistic binary equation of native species equals good, introduced equals bad.

“A quick walk around the maunga shows that native birds don’t care about the trees’ lineages and nor do the myriad of self-sown native seedlings that are flourishing under exotic and native trees alike. The native and exotic trees are happily co-existing together, and the maunga’s environment looks lush and healthy – unlike those maunga whose trees have been destroyed.”

Although the Authority has given an undertaking to the High Court that Ōwairaka’s trees will not be felled or otherwise harmed until the Judicial Review decision is delivered, Honour the Maunga has maintained an ongoing presence to continue raising awareness about the issue and to show its commitment to saving the trees.

Ms Radford says the group has garnered support from people of all ethnicities and walks of life, with people from all over New Zealand coming to visit and find out more.

“The Authority clearly under-estimated Mt Albert and surrounding communities, and probably thought we’d bleat a bit then go away.

“But our community is incredibly passionate, determined and resilient. As can be seen a year on, we haven’t gone away and nor will we until we know for sure that Ōwairaka’s trees are safe.”

She notes that increased public awareness about the situation has led to other communities planning tree protection actions on maunga in their neighbourhoods, including Māori woman Shirley Waru who intends to occupy Mt Richmond / Otāhuhu to save its 443 exotic trees.

“Occupations will be springing up on maunga all over Auckland the moment any chainsaws come out.”

* Diary note for first anniversary celebration event

The order of events will be:

6 pm - 8 pm, Wednesday 11 November (rain, hail or shine) - meet at the Honour the Maunga base at the top of Summit Drive, Mt Albert

  • Welcome / pōwhiri
  • Honour the Maunga update
  • Commemorative tree planting and blessing for our dear supporter Richie Afford who passed away in August
  • Shared meal

If you plan to join us, then please email us so that we have an idea of likely numbers.


Late October 2019: A small number of local residents receive a letter notifying them that 345 exotic trees will be felled on Mt Albert in the five weeks beginning 11 November.

6 November 2019: Honour the Maunga is formed by a group of concerned residents.

11 November 2019: Honour the Maunga starts a 24 x 7 occupation of the maunga to keep felling contractors away.

9 December 2019: Averil and Warwick Norman initiate Judicial Review proceedings against Tūpuna Maunga Authority and Auckland Council, on the grounds that both organisations were contravening Reserves Act regulations in relation to issuing a non-notified resource consent for felling 345 trees on Mt Albert.

January 2020: Kaumatua of Ngāti Whātua and Tainui descent hold a pōwhiri to support Honour the Maunga’s tree-saving efforts.

February 2020: Honour the Maunga sources documents showing it would cost around $1.1 million to fell Ōwairaka’s trees, including a budget of $30,000 to remove a single large tree. It would take an average ratepayer up to 8.5 years to cover the cost of removing that tree alone.

25 March 2020: Honour the Maunga stands down in keeping with Covid Level 4 restrictions

14 April 2020: The Authority removes the campsite during Lockdown Level 4.

4 May 2020: Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei Deputy Chair, Ngarimu Blair, publicly states his concern about the Authority’s handling of the tree situation and questions its plans for single-phase tree felling.

16 May 2020: Honour the Maunga re-instates its base just outside the domain gates and has (Covid rules permitting) maintained a daily presence ever since.

20 May 2020: HTM announces Sir Harold Marshall, KNZM and Pouroto Ngaropo, MNZM as Patrons.

8-9 June 2020: Justice Sheryl Gwyn presides over the Judicial Review hearing in the Auckland High Court.

July 2020: Honour the Maunga and Iramoko Marae announce a unique partnership that gives life to Treaty principles in their joint efforts to protect Ōwairaka’s trees.

July 2020: Department of Conservation correspondence obtained under the Official Information Act shows senior biodiversity officials are concerned about the environmental effect of Tūpuna Maunga Authority’s tree-felling plans for Ōwairaka / Mt Albert over the coming 50 – 100 years while new plantings grow to maturity.

Answers to frequently-asked questions

The maunga are Māori-owned land, so isn’t it racist to be telling the Authority what to do with it?

The Collective Redress Act 2014 vested ownership of 14 maunga in a collective of 13 iwi and hapu (Ngā Mana Whenua). Those 14 maunga are held in trust for the benefit of “Ngā Mana Whenua and the other people of Auckland”. “The other people” includes Māori who were not part of that settlement.

The Reserves Act 1977 overlays the Collective Redress Act. This means all maunga are public reserves, which guarantees public access. The land cannot be sold or developed. Some maunga, such as Mangere and North Head, are Crown-owned but administered by Tūpuna Maunga Authority.

The Authority is a ratepayer-funded co-governance body, which does not own any maunga but administers them. Half its voting members are Auckland Council representatives and half represent the 13 iwi / hapu.

In questioning the Authority’s tree-felling plans, we are questioning its Auckland Council members as much as anybody.

Is Honour the Maunga against the Authority’s native tree planting plans?

We support succession to native vegetation but are deeply concerned about the devastating effects that single phase felling to remove nearly half the tree cover will have on the maunga, its acquifer, its lifeforms and the remaining native trees. Best practice succession should take decades, not weeks. We have obtained correspondence showing that senior DoC officials share our concerns.

But isn’t the Authority going to replace the 345 exotic trees with thousands of natives?

Most of the plantings will be low-growing species such as grasses, sedges and shrubs. The small proportion of canopy trees planted will take many decades to reach a mature height. Furthermore, only a small area of the maunga will be replanted; it will not end up “cloaked” in native vegetation.

Aren’t most of Ōwairaka’s exotic trees pest species?

We have checked an Ōwairaka tree inventory against the Auckland Regional Pest Management Strategy’s pest species list and see that only seven individual trees on the maunga are listed as being pest species. The Authority keeps saying more than 100 are pests because they are on a surveillance list, but being on that list does not mean those trees are pests. To say they are is like claiming to have won an Olympic medal just because you tried out for the team.

Some of the trees are health and safety hazards

There is no evidence of any formal health and safety assessement ever having been conducted for Ōwairaka’s trees, so it is misleading to suggest that the maunga’s exotic trees are hazardous.

There are lots of eucalyptus trees, which “poison the soil”

Nobody told that to the myriad of self-seeded native trees growing happily under many of the maunga’s eucalyptus trees.

Does Honour the Maunga have links with Hobson’s Pledge or other groups of that nature?

Absolutely not; our concerns are to do with the environment and have nothing to do with the Treaty. Some people with anti-Treaty views tried to hijack our cause in the very early days but we quickly identified their agenda and made it clear they were not welcome.

Is Lisa Pragar / Occupy Garnet Road involved in Honour the Maunga?

No. In the early days they protested alongside us, but it quickly became evident they held views contrary to ours, so we made it clear they were not welcome.

Why have Tree Council and Forest & Bird taken the Authority’s side?

That is a question for those organisations but, based on their comments to us, it would appear that they are motivated by something other than ecological or environmental imperatives.

© Scoop Media

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