Time to Vote!

If you haven’t already, it’s time to flex your electoral muscles and post your vote for the local body elections. Turnout is always low in these elections so your vote is extra important.

We emailed all of the Waitemata Local Board and Council candidates with some background information about the plans for the Western Springs Forest (you can read the full text below) and asked which they supported out of:

A – I support saving the forest by retaining its essential character as a mixed-species forest in natural transition to all-native and oppose current Waitemata Board plans for a single large-scale felling operation.

B – I support the current Waitemata Board’s plans to cut-down all but a tiny remnant of the 218 canopy Monterey Pines in a single operation that will involve bulldozing an access road through the forest, creating five skid sites for log processing, and destroying an estimated 50-75% of the native forest sub-canopy.  

C – I don’t feel sufficiently informed at this point to support either A or B but I am happy to have the Society to present its proposal and expert evidence to me and, if elected, will commit to considering all relevant evidence before making any decisions regarding management proposals for the forest, including the implementation and funding of the current resource consent.  

Independents Gael Baldock, Keith McConnell, Will Maxwell-Steele, and Mike Lee all supported option A which is our Society’s vision for the Western Springs Forest.

“Option A. There are too many instances of issues such as this where all the experts say one thing but Council’s “experts” say something else. It needs to stop!”
Will Maxwell-Steele

“I don’t understand why the WLB would want to kill a native forest, to plant a native forest. However the Chair has said that she wouldn’t mind it as her legacy. I say, “leave it alone! Neither man nor woman can do a better job than ‘Mother Nature’. We can help by management and planting specimen species.”
Gael Baldock

“… my only concern has been that of Health & Safety. So I am fully briefed, can you please send me a copy of the 3 reports that you refer to. Option A.”
Keith McConnell

Others were in general support of (A) or at least were not inclined to (B) but felt they needed a better understanding of the evidence (C) to make a call on it:

“I’m aware of the controversy … although I haven’t immersed myself in the detail. Statement A would best align with my views subject to seeing the expert evidence referred to in C.”
Allan Matson

The Communities and Residents team (Genevieve Brown, Roger Burton, Amy Calway, Josh Doubtfire, Denise L’Estrange-Corbet, Greg Moyle and Sarah Trotman) said:

“Thanks for contacting us on this issue. Many local groups are astonished at the execution the current local board is carrying out in its plan for the forest.On behalf of my C&R team we feel most aligned to options A and C. The fact is that we’ve only had one ‘expert’ come in to deem the trees unsafe from the local board with an agenda. As it currently stands my team would not support the current local board plan unless all facts are known. From my personal perspective I’ve heard that there has been a gross exaggeration on the safety of the forest by the local board as a reason for their plan to go ahead. We agree it’s silly to cut down a forest and replace it with another. I’d would certainly like to know more especially on the remaining lifespan for the trees and fully access their viability in the future.

“In addition the creation of an access road for the operation is one of our biggest concerns and shows a lack of wider thinking on part of the board, for example mulch on site which would reduce the impact of having an access road. As trees are being cut down across the central suburbs its important we protect what we have left. I live near Franklin Road and I would hate to see our trees there be cut down so I know how much an issue like this can make to locals.”
Josh Doubtfire

“I not only lived in Western Springs as a youngster, playing with friends in the former US military transit camp and in the ‘Pines’, as we called the bush area, I have also represented our area on the Western Bays Community Board, Auckland City Council, and Waitemata Local Board for 12 of the last 30 years. I agree that the actions of closing the track by the Council is unnecessary and heavy handed. There is no danger if users are sensible and proper maintenance is carried out. The old trees 🌲 have been falling down of their own accord for years, and will continue to do so. It seems to me, that all parties are agreed on the eventual outcome, ie a living, regenerating NZ native forest, which will be a home to our native birds and other species, in the middle of NZ’s largest City. The real issue is timing and process. Personally I would like to see it happen sooner, but not at the expense of losing a significant amount of the native sub canopy. Hopefully the next Local Board will be able to assist all parties to reach an agreement which is both sensible and affordable and which will deliver the outcome we all desire.”
Greg Moyle

“I’m in support of C.
I’m a born, bred and have continued to be a resident of the area – its home to my whenua.”
Ming Schaumkel

Following a positive conversation with the Society, Alex Bonham of City Vision expressed that option C best describes her position regarding the forest.

Sadly no other City Vision candidates have responded to our enquiry yet, apart from Pippa Coom, who didn’t answer the question.

No one who responded chose option (B) – the current Board’s plan for the forest.

The full text of the email we sent the candidates

Dear Local Body Candidate,

The Society for the Protection of Western Springs Forest is seeking your views on protection of Auckland’s tallest inner-city forest.

The Western Springs forest is a designated Significant Ecological Area rich in native flora and fauna. It is a mixed native and exotic forest with a sub-canopy of regenerating native bush and a 95 year old canopy of Monterey Pines. It is visible from many parts of Auckland and a distinctive part of the skyline in Western Springs, Westmere, Grey Lynn and parts of Point Chevalier.  

A contentious report from a single arborist stating the forest was unsafe lead the Waitemata Board to the view that closure of the public access track and a single felling operation to remove all of the pines was necessary.  A subsequent comprehensive tree by tree assessment conducted by two independent arborists and an independent health and safety consultant has shown that this level of safety concern is unjustified. 

The Society supports caring for this forest using a low-intervention management strategy that would see the essential character of Auckland’s tallest forest maintained through individual management of any trees that are found to be unsafe, ongoing management of weeds and pests, and restoration planting of natives with a focus on maximising ecological outcomes as the forest transitions. The final result would still be an all-native forest but the large-scale destruction of the existing forest would be avoided.      

Large urban trees are the least common and are so important for our air quality, as habitat for wildlife, for their grandeur and community amenity, and as stores of carbon in a climate challenged world. A viable strategy to retain this character urban forest already exists and has proved successful in the past. We believe the local board should support this plan..   

Presuming that trees are managed for safety so that the existing walking track can be reopened to the public, which of the following two statements would best align with your views? 

Please choose one of the following three options,
and let us know which you support by return email: 

  • (A) I support saving the forest by retaining its essential character as a mixed-species forest in natural transition to all-native and oppose current Waitemata Board plans for a single large-scale felling operation.
  • (B) I support the current Waitemata Board’s plans to cut-down all but a tiny remnant of the 218 canopy Monterey Pines in a single operation that will involve bulldozing an access road through the forest, creating five skid sites for log processing, and destroying an estimated 50-75% of the native forest sub-canopy.  
  • (C) I don’t feel sufficiently informed at this point to support either A or B but I am happy to have the Society to present its proposal and expert evidence to me and, if elected, will commit to considering all relevant evidence before making any decisions regarding management proposals for the forest, including the implementation and funding of the current resource consent.  

Please read our vision statement, here: our-vision

Council record on Western Springs Forest planting is poor

The Society is concerned about the Council’s promises of replanting a Forest based on its recent past performance in the area when removing pine trees. 

It is more than 5 years since pine trees were removed by the Western Springs Stadium Wall by the Bullock track. When you visit this walking track area you can see replanting has taken place yet the area is covered in weeds: kikuyu, gorse and wattle weed. It is nowhere near the level of beautiful native bush understory that we already have in the Western Springs Forest, which be destroyed if the pine trees are removed. 

The Council seem to have given up on weed management here and is relying on community group efforts (Forest & Bird volunteers have spent several weekends there trying to reduce the level of weed infestation). If this is the level of maintenance that we can expect for Western Springs Forest, it is likely to become a weed wonderland for decades until native regeneration closes the canopy, just as it has done already in the bush that is there now.

And this is despite the fact that it is an area that should have been easy to replant – it has good access, had all of the pine logs removed rather than left on the ground, and had very little weed cover to begin with.

A wonderland of gorse, kikuyu, wattle weed and a wilding pine fight it out for supremacy with the cabbage trees and manuka by the Bullock Track Stadium wall

The planting they have done seems to be for a landscaped garden rather than to replace native bush. Why do they keep planning cabbage trees which are a swamp tree on a hillside?  The existing understorey of the WSF is rich and diverse and suited to its environment. It is not possible to destroy a naturally regenerated forest and then replant it like a native tree garden and say it will be the same Forest. 

Then we go to the pine trees that were removed from the alongside the fence on the Zoo side of the forest, over 13 years ago. On the Forest side of the fence the ground is almost impassable, strewn with felled trunks and high fire risk ‘eco-piles’ of smashed branches.

A bonfire-ready ‘eco pile’ of pine slash (with bonus razor wire left behind by the contractors)

Mile-a-minute and woolly nightshade are doing exceptionally well in these areas now that the pine canopy is gone and they have plenty of light. The extensive ground cover provided by the large number of simultaneously felled trunks is no barrier to weed species but does make their control much more difficult to carry out and makes replanting almost impossible. Mile-a-minute is on the nationwide biosecurity watch list as it smothers and kills most plants from ground level to medium canopy and prevents the establishment of native plant seedlings.

Mile-a-minute and woolly nightshade fill the gaps in between pine corpses

On the Zoo side of the fence there has been some native planting, but it is mostly a wasteland of kikuyu, with thriving clumps of bamboo and gorse. Hardly the “special urban native bush experience” the council touts as its vision for the Western Springs Forest (“Pine stand to go native“, 2018, ourauckland.aucklandcouncil.govt.nz/articles/news/2018/4/western-springs-pines/ )

Some of the ‘special urban native bush experience’ at Auckland Zoo after council replanting efforts 13 years ago

These two case studies – over 5 years ago and then 13 years ago show why the Society is so concerned for the pristine transitioning native understorey that remains. The community is being promised a  “special urban native bush experience in Western Springs” but the photos show the opposite will happen. Our already special urban native forest will be destroyed and if we look at the past experiences of Auckland Council on this site, we will be left with weeds and no native forest. Or it could all just slide down the de-stabilised slope and into the creek.

Protection of Western Springs native forest/ngahere

Request for your assistance – Environment Court

Dear fellow resident of Westmere,

Hello. We are a newly incorporated society formed to save the Western Springs Forest from a plan to clearfell all 200 of the  pine trees in a way that would destroy both the regenerating native bush beneath them, and the essential character of this inner city forest SEA. 

With your support we can ensure a gradual transition from old pines to native forest that is better for the birds and other wildlife that live in the forest and also preserves the character of our local forest for recreation and visual enjoyment.  

For years many of us have walked through the Forest up from the Western Springs lake and down through the track on West View Road. But the track has been closed by Council on the premise that the trees in the reserve are dangerous because they might fall on someone. This is an extreme position that doesn’t stack up with common sense or assessments made by local arborists who say the trees are safe. We want to see the trees managed sensibly and get the track opened up again as soon as possible.

We are fortunate to have this urban native forest/ngahere in our Westmere community. It is the largest urban forest in Central Auckland and is rich in bio-diversity – much of which will have its habitat destroyed by the Council’s current plan to clearfell the old pines in one intensive operation.

The forest has seasonal streams, native birds, lizards, insects and a diverse sub-canopy community of native trees and plants that are growing up and will replace the pines in good time. 

At the foot of the forest is Motions creek which has ‘at risk’ native eels and is frequented by black swans and other birds. The forest is part of the flight path green corridor for birds, including the occasional white heron or kotuku, which is why it has been designatedas a Significant Ecological Areaunder the Unitary Plan.

Motions Creek bordered by the lush forest understory

All this is at risk of destruction and harm due to the proposed clear felling operation by the Auckland Council which is scheduled to take place in early 2020.

But with community support we can save our local forest.

We are asking people to give whatever support they can and if you are able to contribute anything financially for the legal challenge that would be a huge help.

The Forest is made up of 200 overstorey  pine trees standing tall on the horizon over the native understory. We all can see the gnarly pines as we drive and walk about Westmere and Western Springs and from as far away as Point Chevalier. We might take such a sight for granted or consider pines as nothing important but these particular trees are of significant value and a vital nursery for the natives, habitat for biodiversity, are a windbreak from the sea and absorb rain deluges that could cause erosion and flooding. They also collectively contain hundreds of tonnes of sequestered carbon which helps our climate as long as they remain standing.   

The Auckland Council recently obtained consent  to remove all 200 pine trees in a traumatic clear felling operation that will smash most of the native trees and leave a degraded landscape of low lying scrub, tree stumps and weeds.

They intend to plant the area in young natives over coming years and manage the weeds with extensive herbicide spraying which will drift across our neighbourhood.  

None of this is necessary or good for any existing native ecology let along the character of the forest and the quality of life for local residents.

If the Council’s logging operation proceeds up to 72% of the native forest and ecology will be destroyed.This is because each of the old pines is about 30-40 tonnes of wood. The very old native tree ferns, pohutukawa, pururi, whitey wood and other plants below will be crushed. Such an impact is  not contested by the Council.

The proposed planting of natives to remediate would not mitigate for this destruction. All going according to plan new natives would take 50-90 years to establish. The forest is currently a closed canopy, but it will become open and full of weeds. Managing this will be a major undertaking.  We only have to look down the Bullock Track to see what happened when the large pine  trees were removed.

There is an obvious alternative.

For many years the forest has been managed through gradual removal of pines as they are damaged or become pre-disposed to failing. This minimises impact on the native understory and everything that lives there. The natives are flourishing. There are relatively few weeds in the forest and these too can be managed with regular native plantings as light gaps appear.

A young rimu that will eventually grow tall enough to take over the role of protective canopy from the pines

The Society For the Protection of Western Springs Forest is advocating for this tried and true transition management of the forest with some improvements.  There needs to be non chemical weed and pest management and, crucially, the public walking track needs to be opened as soon as possible so that we can all enjoy this local treasure once again.

With this alternative plan, the forest will transition over time to a totally native ecology, so we will end up with the same result in a shorter term than the long-term mess and destruction and biodiversity and habitat loss inherent in the Council’s current plan.

The legal appeal:

Many local residents, who have become founding members of the society, objected to the original resource consent application and also attending the hearings in December 2018. During the hearing it was clear the Auckland Council experts hadn’t considered many important matters, including the actual health of the pine trees. We hoped the resource commissioners would decline the application, however in May 2019 they agreed to it with conditions. We believe their decision is wrong and their conditions are insufficient. The pine trees should be managed case by case for health and safety and the native forest/ngahere and the biodiversity that lives on it should be allowed to continue to grow and flourish beneath. This is what happens in other jurisdictions and with other transitioning Forests.

Our Society has recently lodged an appeal in the Environment Court. This is one thing for which we need immediate funds.. These appeals depend on expert evidence and professional legal counsel. To date, we have had experts donate their time to guide us and help us challenge the resource consent, but now we need to engage them officially for the hearing. Environment Court cases are expensive; costs can easily go over $80,000 for the experts and other legal costs. Usually communities do not even get through the first step of filing an appeal as the paperwork, legal work and filing fee itself are daunting, but we have gotten through that step.

We believe we have a very good chance of success but without professional assistance the case is not possible. These environmental cases are won or lost over expert evidence. 

We know that we are all being asked to donate to various worthy causes. That this unique forest is in our neighbourhood and if we don’t protect it, no one else will. We can’t do this alone.. Any donation would be hugely appreciated – including your time. No contribution is too small:

Donate $25, $50, $100, $200

See the support us page for details

Please also take a look at our FAQs and don’t hesitate to contact us with any offers of help: info@westernspringsforest.org

We will be holding local information and organising meetings over the coming weeks and months. We’d love to have you there. Together we can save our local forest.

Thank you for your support.

Kind regards,
Wendy Gray
Society for the Preservation of Western Springs Forest 

Human rights lawyer Deborah Manning leads fight over Western Springs pines – Stuff

A prominent human rights lawyer will face-off against Auckland Council this week over plans to cut down an ageing pine forest.

The issue arose in 2015, when the council determined the pines in Western Springs were past their life expectancy, declining rapidly and posed a risk to public safety. 

But Deborah Manning, a human rights lawyer who featured in the case of Algerian refugee Ahmed Zaoui, stands firmly against the project. 

“There are only a few trees at risk of falling that need to be managed in this forest,” she said.

“Clearfelling all 200 pine trees would destroy the understory of the forest, which includes many native flora and fauna.”

The understory refers to the layer of vegetation that grows between the forest canopy and the forest floor.

Manning wants the forest managed with a tree by tree assessment, which would involve removing only the trees deemed at risk of falling.

Read the full article from Ripu Bhatia on Stuff here

Large trees provide exponentially larger environmental benefits

In 2017 Auckland Council’s Research and Evaluation Unit published a report on the state of Auckland’s urban forests, in the Monitoring Research Quarterly newsletter.

They said that “Large trees provide exponentially larger environmental benefits – such as carbon storage, area shaded by canopy and building cooling effect – compared to small trees of the same species; a typical 20m tall street tree may provide three to seven times the benefit of a 10m tall one, and these benefits continue to rise rapidly above 20m.”

and also that “Only about seven per cent of Auckland’s urban forest canopy
is greater than 20m in height”

If you look at their map (from 2013), you see that the Western Springs Forest is the only 30+ forest in the whole of the Waitemata Local Board, with only scattered trees of similar heights in the Auckland Domain or in the shattered forest fragment to the east of the Western Springs stadium. That fragment alongside the Bullock Track has since then already been clear-felled and is now a struggling, weed-infested patch of regenerating scrub – a far cry from the lush, diverse area of native bush that exists under the Western Springs Forest’s pines.

Figure 9: Urban forest cover within the suburban zone of Waitematā Local Board showing the maximum height of urban forest patches (in metres)

Even in the 20-30m category the board region only has Western Springs park, the Domain, Cox’s Bay and Western Park as providing any significant contribution.

“The majority of trees greater than 20m are concentrated in a small number of public parks, including The Domain, the Western Springs area including the steep escarpment below Old Mill Road, Western Springs Park and the zoo, Cox’s Bay Reserve, small pockets within Ayr Reserve, and Western Park (Figures 9 and 11). There are also scattered examples taller trees in some smaller parks, including Alberon Reserve, Scarborough Reserve and Dove Myer-Robinson Park (Parnell) and Point Erin Park.”

The Council’s own analysis states that “International research has shown that many of the benefits attributed to urban forest are disproportionally provided by larger trees.”

“This is particularly true for environmental-ecosystems benefits such as providing shade, sequestering carbon, trapping pollutants and reducing water run-off. It seems intuitively correct that larger trees will cast more shade, have higher wood volume, greater total leaf area to trap pollutants and higher water requirements, and this is backed up by experimental evidence.”

“This data suggests it is critical to retain the larger trees”

And yet they plan to cut down the entire, and only major, stand of 20+m trees we have.

View or download the newsletter here: http://knowledgeauckland.org.nz/assets/publications/MRQ-08August-2017.pdf

The article is largely based on data from this report from 2013: http://knowledgeauckland.org.nz/assets/publications/TR2017-006-Urban-forest-of-Waitemata-Local-Board-in-2013.pdf

Fundraiser: Intelligent Trees Documentary screening

Special screening and fundraiser, Sun 18 August, 5pm, followed by a live interview with lawyer Deborah Manning, presented by Society for the Protection of Western Springs Forest Inc.

Join us at Garnet Station for wood-fired pizzas and a cash bar. Please let all concerned tree lovers know to book in advance on the Garnet Station website, with payment on the night.  The cost is $35 per ticket, with funds going towards activities that support Auckland’s heritage trees.

Book now at garnetstation.com/events/intelligent-trees-fundraiser/

This fundraiser is organised by the Society to help with the costs involved in challenging the resource consent approved by Auckland Council to fell the Monterey pines and in the process destroy the 50+year-old regenerating native bush underneath.

 ‘Intelligent Trees’ features observations from German forester Peter Wohlleben’s book The Hidden Life of Trees such as the stump that has been kept alive by its neighboring trees, the old tree-couple that looks after each other and the Mother Trees that suckle their offspring.

Preceded by a BBC animation “What is the Wood Wide Web?”

And we wrap it up with a Q&A with lawyer and local resident Deborah Manning, about the complexities of the Resource Management act in relation to saving trees, hosted by Verity George.

Limited seats, so book a space online now and pay on the night, pizzas available and the bar will be open.

Bring a friend and join the green revolution!


Appeal lodged against clear felling of Western Springs Forest

This is a press release from the Society for the Protection of Western Springs Forest

An appeal against a Resource Consent granting permission to Auckland Council to clearfell 200 pine trees, which will destroy a large part of the regenerating native understory in the Western Springs Forest, has been lodged at the Environment Court by the newly Incorporated Society for the Protection of the Western Springs Forest. 

The group says the rapid clear felling will cause irreparable destruction of native plants, animals and habitat and is contrary to best management practices of the forest which is designated a Significant Ecological Area (SEA).

The appellants will argue that Commissioners failed to properly take into account the damage to biodiversity of destroying approximately 10,000, maturing native trees and ngahere.

“This would be a catastrophic impact on the regenerating native forest and its ecology for which the 95 year old stand of Pines acts as a nursery,” says spokesperson Wendy Gray.   

Instead the group supports the current gradual transition to native forest.

“A properly managed transition would avoid trauma to both the native biodiversity and local residents of logging this striking stand of old trees in one fell swoop,” says Gray.  

 The group is also challenging the Council for not considering the climate change consequences of the clear felling.

 “Clear felling and destroying this ecosystem and micro-climate would make a mockery of the Councils new Climate Emergency declaration,” says Gray.

Despite widespread local opposition, and a commitment to further consult affected residents and the community, the Waitemata Local Board Chair Pippa Coom moved quickly after Commissioners granted consent on 21 May and issued an email on 9 June proclaiming that the felling would take place next year (2020).

The Society for the Protection of Western Springs Forest includes local western springs residents and submitters to the original proposal. They have engaged legal counsel to run the appeal and are inviting the public to contribute to a fighting fund for the case.

The new community group says they will hold local politicians to account.

A number of relevant experts have also offered support for the appeal including ecologists, arborists and health and safety specialists who are concerned about the clear felling.  

An expert ecologist has advised that “the current [Auckland Council] proposal, without any provision or consideration of alternatives, does not seem appropriate. It is likely that the site’s existing biodiversity would, at best, be adversely impacted. Catastrophic impacts on the site’s ecology are a real possibility.”

We are inviting financial contributions on the website.

“This process costs an enormous amount of money so we really appreciate and need any contribution people can make to protect this unique inner city Forest and microclimate, the ‘lungs’ of Auckland.”

Auckland Council to use emergency powers to cut down 10 pine trees

Some Auckland residents say they are exhausted and stressed after a month fighting council plans to fell nearby pine trees.

The Auckland Council is seeking resource consent to fell 203 trees in Western Springs, and are using emergency powers under the Unitary Plan to cut down 10 it says pose health and safety risks.

Residents at the park’s boundary have fought to protect the trees but the council intends to remove them next week.

A Westview Road resident, Deborah Manning, said they are worn down and exhausted after a month of research and seeking advice from independent experts in a bid to protect the trees.

“Residents in the community feel like we have been in a state of invented crisis for the last month over supposed emergency tree works,” she said.

“All residents are pleading for is for decisions about significant ecological areas to be made on the best information and to be shared with residents and the community affected by those decisions.”

Read more of this article from Brooke Jenner on RNZ News here:

Western Springs pine trees removal delayed again

Auckland Council has again delayed its plan to use emergency powers to cut down 13 pine trees in Western Springs.

The council said the trees posed a safety risk because they were dead or dying, but residents say the council is bypassing due process.

Another meeting is planned for Monday and the council said it hoped to come to an agreement with the residents then.

An independent arborist representing the residents has already met with the council to discuss the issues.

The council said it was working in good faith with the residents to come to an agreement.

From RNZ News at western-springs-pine-trees-removal-delayed-again

Urgent removal of pines in Western Springs Lakeside Park

Thirteen trees have been identified for immediate removal following concerns about their health. 

Following concerns raised by residents affected by Auckland Council’s planned emergency tree felling works along the western side of Western Springs Lakeside Park have been delayed so that further engagement can take place with residents.

The council has applied for a resource consent to remove the entire stand of 200+ pines in the forest block and replace them with a native forest. However, following concerns expressed by a neighbouring resident in November, a site inspection took place with a qualified council arborist and an independent arborist which identified the deteriorated and dangerous state of 13 trees in the park which pose an immediate risk to neighbouring residents and their property …

Read more from Auckland Council here: urgent-removal-of-pines-in-western-springs-lakeside-park/