Work on felling 13 pine trees at Auckland's Western Springs has gone on hold today after vandals entered the site overnight and laid barbed wire and twine between the trees.
Auckland Council community facilities general manager Rod Sheridan said contractors discovered the vandalism this morning "in a manner designed to compromise the safety of council staff and contractors".
"We are raising this incident with police as we cannot tolerate the safety of our staff and contractors being put at risk.
"Once police have concluded their scene examination we will clear the site. The emergency tree felling work has been put on hold while this work takes place."
Treescape, the contractor employed by council to remove the pine trees, was due to start work this morning after council delayed work for 24 hours on Monday for further discussions with affected neighbours.
Protesters are planning to occupy the back sections of three houses in West View Rd where Auckland Council has asked residents to evacuate for safety reasons while the trees are removed.
Today, Occupy Garnet Rd stalwart Lisa Prager and Wendy Gray, who has gathered 755 signatures on a petition asking council to drop the clearfelling and to manage the forest by "surgical removal of only trees predisposed to failure", set up in the back yard of one of the three closest houses to the works.
Sheridan said council has a legal responsibility to not only protect the safety of staff and contractors, but also remove the danger to residents and property when it is aware of council assets that pose risks.
It is using emergency provisions under the Unitary Plan to remove 13 pine trees considered to be at immediate risk of falling.
The council has also applied for resource consent to clearfell all 200 remaining trees in a 3.2ha block behind the Western Springs lake.
Planning commissioners have asked the council to answer questions about a separate resource consent application to clearfell the trees and build a road and a large processing area at the site, zoned a Significant Ecological Area.
Residents and Waitemata councillor Mike Lee have accused council of flouting its own resource consent process by removing the 13 pines while seeking consent to remove all 200 pines.
Sheridan said "the tragic failure of a mature tree in Queenstown this week is a timely reminder that older trees can fail at any time without warning".
"As we are aware of the immediate danger posed by the 13 dead and dying trees in Western Springs Lakeside Park, we are obliged to remove this risk without delay.
"The majority of the residents spoken to by council staff understand the need for this work to take place and have accepted the minor inconvenience that it will involve," he said.
Sheridan said although to the untrained eye not all of the trees slated for emergency removal may appear dead, council and independent arborists have advised that the trees' root systems have died which has led to the urgency.
"Auckland is about to enter the tropical storm season which is characterised by high winds that will further compromise the stability of the trees.
"Unlike the proposed work plan to remove the full block of 200-plus pine trees, the emergency removals would at most require a 3m wide access track, not an 8m logging road.
"We are currently reviewing the methodology that we are presenting to the resource consent hearing panel with the aim of keeping the impact to the Significant Ecological Area below to a minimum."
Opponents are concerned about council plans for a logging road through the site and a large processing site to clearfell all 200 trees.
"The destruction of 70 per cent of this regenerating native bush would be a travesty in my mind merely to remove 200 trees," said Vaughan Clutterbuck, who lives in West View Rd overlooking the trees.
Clutterbuck said council has obfuscated all along about its plans and not been upfront with neighbours about the size of the road, which would require a cut of up to 8m into the hillside.
"The way they have gone about it has been extremely disrespectful," said Clutterbuck, who believes the best way to remove the trees would be to remove them in groups of about 20 each year.
Prager said: "We are outraged council is attempting to cut down this stand of 13 Monterey pines, not because we love pines, but because there is a significant ecological area underneath them. There is regenerating bush at least 50 years old with an entire ecosystem that needs to be protected."