The usually serene and pastoral surrounds of Ōwairaka Mt Albert was the setting for protest yesterday as Auckland Council contractors were due to begin removing 345 exotic trees such as olive and monkey apples.
About 30 protesters turned out to try to block the entrance to the reserve and stop the cull. Mt Albert resident Anna Radford, spokesperson for Honour the Maunga community group, said all trees supported native wildlife and the mature exotics should be left until the new native trees were bigger.
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The felling on Mt Albert was organised, it appears, by Auckland Council at the behest of the Tūpuna Maunga o Tāmaki Makaurau Authority. So who is the Tūpuna Maunga o Tāmaki Makaurau Authority?
According to the Auckland Council, the "Auckland Council is responsible for the management of the Tūpuna Maunga under the direction of the Tūpuna Maunga Authority". Essentially, the authority says what should be done and the Auckland Council does it. That's how authority works.
The authority is chaired by Paul Majurey and deputy chair is councillor Alf Filipaina. There are six mana whenua members and an equal number of representatives from Auckland Council, plus one Crown representative, Stefan Corbett from the Ministry for Culture and Heritage.
The authority came into being after 2014, around the time 14 maunga were returned to 13 mana whenua iwi and hapū of Auckland in a Treaty of Waitangi settlement, marking a turning point in the management and enhancement of these taonga.
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The settlement legislation allowed for the establishment of the Tūpuna Maunga Authority, as "a co-governance entity" comprised of equal membership from ngā Mana Whenua o Tāmaki Makaurau and Auckland Council. To fulfil its function, the authority drafted a plan and invited public comment. Public consultation ran from July 6 to August 16 this year and is now closed. According to the Auckland Council website, written feedback is being considered by the Tūpuna Maunga Authority.
Meanwhile, the authority is already acting on its objectives. Speaking of which, one objective in the plan is to: "protect and restore the biodiversity of the tūpuna maunga". Biodiversity, it's clear, does not include exotic species such as olive trees.
The plan elsewhere is more specific on the types of trees to be prioritised. "Revegetation and planting will restore and sustain the landscape values of the Tūpuna Maunga and provide opportunities to support a rich array of native species [our emphasis] including endemic local species, will include māra kai, rongoa gardens and native uncultivated food gardens, and pa harakeke."
Where the actions of the authority may part ways with its own integrated plan however, may be where it states: "Successional planting may be necessary to achieve a particular end state." Successional planting allows less desired trees to act as a nursery to new seedlings to boost their growth, exactly in the manner described by Radford.
One of the "pathways" also stated in the authority's own plan is to "actively nurture positive relationships". It's obvious, after the events on Ōwairaka Mt Albert this week, there's work to be done in this respect too.