More than sixty Mount Albert residents gathered this morning at the Ōwairaka maunga entrance to stop the planned removal of hundreds of exotic trees.
Meanwhile many other residents have voiced support for the project, calling the opposition a "slap in the face" for Māori and ignoring the history of colonisation and land alienation.
The Tūpuna Maunga Authority - made up of iwi, council and Crown representatives - manages Auckland's 14 tūpuna maunga (ancestral mountains) and had announced a plan to restore native vegetation and habitat, while protecting historically significant areas.
The tree removal was meant to commence from today until mid-December, but had been halted by concerned members of the community.
Honour the Maunga member Anna Radford said planting seedlings to replace mature trees didn't make sense.
"This madness has to stop. Trees support wildlife, birds, insects, all sorts of creatures we can't see ... there is no need to cut down 345 trees just because they're exotic.
"Exotics aren't evil."
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The Mt Albert resident of 21 years said she supported the planting of native trees, but wanted the older trees removed in stages, as they aged.
"Exotics have a role to play in nursing those young native seedlings as they grow to maturity."
Radford said she was saddened at the lack of consultation and communication.
She said they'd be there as long as it took, and the 60 protesters gathered were organising a roster to guard the entrance 24/7 for the next week.
Tūpuna Maunga Authority chair Paul Majurey had previously told the Herald while there could be short-term impacts, long term it would enhance the areas and native wildlife for "generations to come".
The tree 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, and to do so all in one go, to minimise land disturbance.
They had worked with ecologists to ensure habitat would remain for native birds.
Protest claims 'a bit rich'
Ngahuia Owena Hawke, who grew up in Mt Albert and has ties to many Tāmaki iwi, said it was a "bit rich" for people to be criticising Māori for a perceived lack of consultation.
"It is quite a slap in the face, just ignored all of the history of the area. Māori were never consulted about Ōwairaka [when it was mined].
"Meanwhile, the authority has gone through all of the consultation processes required of it, done all of the proper assessments."
Since the 2014 Treaty settlement, which transferred the city's 14 tūpuna maunga to mana whenua, a lot of work had gone into enhancing them, and ensuring public access.
"We don't own them - nobody owns them. But we said let's put it back to what it was like, before even Māori were here. Revert the maunga to places where all wildlife flourish."
She encouraged concerned residents to read more about the restoration plans, and visit their local marae to hear the Māori perspective.
Kingi Snelgar of Ōtahuhu said there were similar protests during restoration works on Māngere Mountain nearby and he was concerned at a growing anti-Māori rhetoric.
Pamphlets had recently been dropped into Mt Albert letterboxes urging residents to "resist" the Tūpuna Maunga Authority, under the banner "One Treaty, One Nation".
The pamphlet argued Māori were being given special treatment, called the authority a "dictatorship" and the 2014 Treaty settlement that established it a "fraud".
"It is very concerning to see this idea coming through of Māori receiving special privilege, when we know Māori make up all of the worst socio-economic indicators," Snelgar said.
"People need to be more aware of the history - colonisation, land alienation and loss of culture - before making such comments. Many of the houses nearby were built on confiscated land."
There was also a perception people didn't want to be told what to do by a Māori organisation.
"But Māori have been caretakers for over a thousand years. These plantings are a way to bring back mana to these traditional places."
Mark Beavis, who lived near Ōwairaka, said as Pākehā he felt there needed to be more respect shown for mana whenua.
"I think this protest is by a small group who don't really seem to respect the fact mana whenua really have the best interests of the maunga at heart."
The authority could have better communicated the plans, but people also needed to do their own research before getting up in arms, he said.
"They are not clearfelling the maunga, just specific trees. We need to respect the opinion of experts. It seems like we are all arborists now."
Authority happy with process
Tūpuna Maunga Authority deputy chairperson Alf Filipaina said the correct consultation process was followed, and they were happy with the 34 submissions received from their extensive communication plan.
The Manukau councillor appreciated the community making their voices heard, but said he didn't know why they didn't make a submission earlier.
"You would have thought if it was that much of an issue, they would have availed themselves of the consultation [process] when it came out around the plan."
Filipaina said the information was put into all the neighbourhood papers and local boards about when the consultation period was open for submissions.
The Tree Council previously told the Herald it supported the restoration plan, calling it an integral part of "healing the maunga" after previous "ill-advised" plantings of exotic species.
Nearly 3000 native seedlings have already been planted this year on Mt Albert, with a planned total of 10,000 seedlings over the next few years.