A Māori-led Māngere-Ōtāhuhu community group is preparing to occupy Mt Richmond / Ōtāhuhu after learning that Auckland Council has recently issued a non-notified resource consent to allow Tūpuna Maunga Authority to fell hundreds of exotic trees there.
Local resident Shirley Waru (Te Rarawa o Ngāpui / Te Uri o Tai) lives nearby and has been growing increasingly concerned about the Authority’s plans to rid Tāmaki Makaurau / Auckland’s volcanic cones of around 2500 non-native trees.
Ms Waru, who leads the Respect Mt Richmond / Ōtāhuhu group, does not know exactly when the Authority plans to take Mt Richmond’s trees down but says she and other locals will occupy the maunga if and when the chainsaws come out.
“In 2019 the Authority destroyed a stunning grove of around 100 old olive trees here, 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.”
The current resource consent is for felling 278 of the maunga’s 443 exotic trees – nearly two-thirds of the maunga’s total tree cover. However, the paperwork states the project’s objective is to “remove any species not originating in NZ (exotics) from the maunga”, which makes it clear the Authority intends to destroy all of the exotics in time – 75% of the maunga’s entire tree cover.
Ms Waru says removing so many trees would be devastating to wildlife and people alike because the area already has among the lowest tree 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 Māngere maunga. And it was also before the intensive housing developments that have since sprung up in the neighbourhood.”
Ms Waru says the local community comprises many Māori and Pasifika peoples, who have precious little access to green spaces as it is. The Mt Richmond Domain has been particularly popular during the lockdown, with the nearest other large space being more than six kilometres away at One Tree Hill.
She noted over the past two years the Authority had planted hundreds, if not thousands, of native plants at the maunga but they were entirely low-growing species such as flaxes and grasses, rather than tall tree species. Although the maunga has plenty of empty space, all of the plantings were on one of the rugby league fields.
When questioned why they were planting there, the Authority claimed it was because the ground was sinking so the field was about to be decommissioned anyway. Ms Waru 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. But even worse, it has taken yet another much needed facility away from our already under-resourced local community.”
Ms Waru says she has tried to engage with the Authority, her local board and Auckland Council – all without success.
“The way they are treating the community and treating the environment makes me ashamed to be Tangata Whenua for this is not how we do things.
Protecting Papatūānuku and her children such as the trees and birds is at the centre of Mātauranga Māori (traditional Māori knowledge and culture), for it is they who are the kaitiaki (guardians).
“In doing such harm to the environment, Tūpuna Maunga Authority and its supporters are harming those kaitiaki and undermining – not protecting – our culture.
“Tikanga (protocol) also requires engaging with communities in an honest and meaningful way, yet the Authority has publicly admitted it never talked with anybody about its specific plans to get rid of all the exotics.
“I have tried speaking with some of the local kaumatua about this, but they clam up. Something deeply wrong is happening here and it is not a good thing for Tangata Whenua.”
Ms Waru says the Authority is not exercising kaitiakitanga (guardianship) over the maunga if it plans to fell thousands of trees.
“That disrespects our 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 destroying the old ways and taking what appears to be a nasty and highly disrespectful approach to local communities across the city – all aided and abetted by Auckland Council.
“Is this really how Ngā Mana Whenua wants to represent itself to the people of Auckland?
We can’t let this happen to our trees without a conversation about how our community feels. If our community lose these trees, we will also lose our Mana and Mauri as a community.Shirley Waru