On screen it looked like the perfect enviro-battle: tree-lovers with their hemp knickers in a twist as a lippy property developer tried to sell a live Whangarei kauri tree in an online auction.
Turns out it was all a big fib.
"We just got bored last Friday," said Mike, the Auckland-based seller.
"I can't believe people would bite so much - or take it so seriously. How ridiculous would you be to put something like that up for sale? It'd be like advertising in a police station staff room that you wanted to commit a crime."
The father of three claimed in the listing to have a lifestyle block 15km from Whangarei, and listed the 30-metre live kauri under "Timber" in the building and construction section.
The accompanying photo he found on the internet.
The tree - which he said was around 100 years old with a trunk diameter of up to 1.5m - was in the way of his planned house.
Top bid was $750 just before midday yesterday. Minutes later the plug was pulled, after a flurry of complaints to TradeMe and a quick check of MAF's native tree rules.
"Essentially it wasn't a legal listing," said TradeMe regulatory manager Christine Turner.
The auctioneers had asked Mike to advise bidders a permit was needed to mill the timber. He didn't, so TradeMe pulled it.
"In the meantime he continued to answer questions in a way that upset our community," Miss Turner said.
The listing said: "Ideal for milling into planks of whatever size. Pick ups only as we do not have the gear to chop it up into manageable chuncks [sic] for delivery." MAF was grumpy, the Whangarei District Council curious - and Mike was surprised people kept ``coming back for more" of his provocative responses.
MAF has strict rules around native tree felling and milling, with maximum penalties of $200,000 for those who break them, said Alan Griffiths of the indigenous forestry unit. Chopping down trees for firewood or carving was more straightforward than milling, he said.
Without knowing exactly where the kauri was, council monitoring manager Paul Waanders said it was likely the tree fell into the rural category, and would be protected only if covenanted or on the voluntary heritage trees list, or was part of a landscape review project.
"There are certain controls in some areas," he said. Anyone caught breaking the council's tree laws could face an infringement notice or prosecution.
"An infringement notice is like a parking ticket - between $300 and $750. I don't think that's a deterrent," Mr Waanders said.
At first Whangarei Green Party spokeswoman Moea Armstrong was outraged anyone would want to cut down a kauri to make way for a house. But while highlighting lax tree protection policies, the hoax had served a useful purpose.
While investigating the sale, she discovered cutting down the tree for timber would have been illegal - but there was nothing to stop it being cut down for firewood. The party's Whangarei branch would look at legislation to close the loophole. "We'd like to thank that person for bringing this to our attention," she said.
Mike chose a Whangarei tree because he knew there were "quite a few tree-passionate people there".
Although frustrated at the paperwork involved with property development, he said it was "fair and proper" he had to plant new trees as a condition of a resource consent to fell a pohutukawa. Although TradeMe does not vet every auction, Miss Turner said its members are quick to complain about dodgy listings.
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