Auckland residents are up in arms at a native restoration plan that will see hundreds of trees - many of them mature - rapidly lopped off a treasured inner-city maunga.
The Tūpuna Maunga Authority, which manages the city's 14 tūpuna maunga (ancestral mountains), plans to remove 345 exotic trees from Ōwairaka/Mt Albert between November 11 and mid-December as part of a long term native restoration project.
So far 2700 new shrubs have been planted on Ōwairaka, the first installment of 13,000 natives to be planted over the next few years.
The aims of the city-wide project were to reconnect native ecological networks within and between the 14 maunga and the wider landscape, and also improve the sightlines.
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Mt Albert resident Anna Radford said she supported the overall project, but was concerned about the speed and severity.
"Removing 345 trees all at once will have a huge impact. It is not a very large maunga, and will be almost bare."
She had lived in a property backing on to the maunga for 21 years, and regularly walked it with her husband.
She was part of a local pest trapping group and said they had seen massive increase in native bird life in the area. She was concerned the mass tree removal could affect that.
"The dawn chorus is spectacular, so I am really concerned about any impacts the mass removal may have on that. We get fantails (pīwakawaka), kingfisher, obviously tūī - a whole platter.
"Obviously the native plants and trees will help with that in the long term, but why can't they do it in a more staged approach?"
Radford said there many large eucalyptus trees, flowering cherry trees and oaks.
"The new native trees will be very slow to grow, it just does not make sense why they need to take them all out at once."
Fellow Mt Albert resident Graham Davison questioned the need to remove all of the exotic species.
"Many of these trees have spiritual significance for individual residents of this area, significance gained over years of acquaintance. What a slaughter to do it all in a month."
Residents were informed of the Ōwairaka tree removal works via a letter on October 29, although they were also invited to make submissions on the wider management plan back in 2016.
The tree removals are the latest in the wider restoration project to replace hundreds of exotic trees on the city's maunga with 74,000 new native trees and shrubs by 2021.
In March, 150 trees were removed from Māngere Mountain/Te Pane o Mataoho/Te Ara Pueru, in April 112 trees from Ōhuiarangi/Pigeon Mountain, and last year a two-year removal of 100 pine trees began on Maungarei/Mt Wellington.
Tūpuna Maunga Authority chair Paul Majurey said the authority was committed to
honouring the maunga as some of Auckland's oldest and most important natural, cultural and archaeological landmarks.
While short term there could be adverse impacts, they took a long term view to enhance the areas and native wildlife for "generations to come".
The Ōwairaka removals included species identified as pests, such as olive and monkey apple. Safety reasons around large, old trees falling over were also cited as reasons for removal.
They chose to remove the trees at this time of year when the ground was hard and dry, as some removals required a small crane or cherry picker, to minimise land disturbance. Trees would also be removed at the base, so as to minimise ground disturbance.
Removing the trees in a single phase would also minimise the disturbance, and they had worked with ecologists to ensure habitat would remain for native birds.
Albert-Eden-Roskill ward councillor and authority board member Cathy Casey declined to comment when asked if she supported the process.
Sean Freeman, chairman of the Tree Council, said it "recognised the positive role" large established trees can play in a neighbourhood, but it supported "the objectives and vision" of the Tūpuna Maunga plan.
"We recognise that whilst to many Aucklanders - myself included - these unique landscapes are highly valued recreational spaces, to the Iwi these are treasures handed down the generations with the tihi (summits) being most sacred places that have over time been seriously damaged by ill-advised and ill-informed developments including the exotic plantings imposed on the land," he said in a statement to the Herald.
"These tree removals and the commitment to large scale native plant revegetation are part of the Tūpuna Maunga Authority's plans to restore indigenous native ecosystems on these sites and are an integral part of the healing of the Maunga.
"The Tree Council fully supports the plans to restore native woodland on the slopes of Ōwairaka (and the other Maunga) the long-term outcomes of restoring the native ecology not just on one Maunga but between all of them will be hugely positive not just for Mt Albert residents, but the whole of Auckland."
Almost 3000 native shrubs had already been planted on the slopes of Ōwairaka with the help from around 100 local residents, he said, with a total of 13,000 natives in the next couple of years.
"We acknowledge the very real concerns that people feel about seeing established trees being removed from a familiar landscape, hopefully gaining a better understanding of the complete plans for restoring native vegetation and native ecology to the slopes of Ōwairaka and the reasoning behind those plans will allay some of those concerns."
The city's 14 tūpuna maunga were transferred to the mana whenua tribes of Auckland in a 2014 Treaty settlement.
They are managed by the Tūpuna Maunga Authority, made up of six iwi representatives, six Auckland Council representatives and one non-voting Crown representative.
The authority is independent of the Council and has decision-making powers and functions.
Majority of the city's maunga were important Māori pā (settlements), making them separate from other parks and open spaces in that they were wāhi tapu - sites of immense spiritual, ancestral, cultural, customary, and historical significance to mana whenua.