Pine trees have been standing for too long in some of Auckland's parks. Old and scrubby, they have lost the shape and density that must have made them appealing to generations long ago. Today some of them are standing above regenerating native forest and looking increasingly incongruous as young rimu, totara, kauri and other indigenous species rise to replace them. So it is good to learn the Auckland Council plans to remove all the pines from at least one section of Western Springs reserve. It is just a pity the council appears to be going the wrong way about it.
The council says it needs to clearfell the 200 trees rather than lower them limb by limb to minimise damage to the bush below. It says they are too old for arborists to climb safely. An ecological report on the plan states that clearfelling "will result in the damage and destruction of most indigenous vegetation in the subcanopy and understorey".
Planning commissioners who heard the council's application last month were clearly concerned about the consequences of clearfelling. They have given the council a number of questions to be answered by this Friday including whether there are any other removal methods that could be used. But the council did not want to wait even that long before proceeding to fell some of the trees.
Residents in three houses closest to the area have been advised by the council to vacate them during the day from today for 13 of the pines to be removed immediately under emergency provisions of the Auckland Unitary Plan. The axe has now been stayed for a day for residents to be consulted but the council is still in a needless hurry.
Safety trumps all other considerations in public decisions these days and often rightly so. But in this case it looks very much like an excuse to circumvent the resource consent procedure. The trees have been in their present state for decades. The risk that they might fall on a house in the next few days is so low it hardly justifies the council's precipitate intention.
It appears the council is not seriously looking for a method of extraction that would satisfy the commissioners' concerns for the growing native forest below the condemned trees. If it shared those concerns, it would not be rushing to drop any of the pines before a better method had been found.
The hillside behind Western Springs lake has a luxuriant undergrowth of many native species that are reaching a good height. The area no longer needs pines to give it a forest landscape. If the pines can be removed without damaging the regrowth the hillside will be much more attractive. If, however, the pines are clearfelled it will be a scene of devastation for years while the regrowth starts anew.
The council plans to plant 15,000 native trees once the pines are removed. At the rate natives grow it will be 20 years before they match the present undercanopy that would be crushed by clearfelling the pines. There must be a better way.