Our urban forest

One of the final decisions I made as a Chair of the Waitematā Local Board was to approve Auckland’s first localised Urban Ngahere Action Plan.  The plan is a road map for replenishing the urban forest and delivering on Auckland Council’s Urban Ngahere (Forest) Strategy to achieve the goal of 30% tree cover by 2050.   There are now 16 local boards who have either finalised or are in the process of taking Waitematā’s lead on their own plan.  There are numerous benefits associated with having, developing and maintaining a flourishing urban forest.

If the Recovery Budget is supported with a one off 5% rates rise there will be an additional $14m to invest in growing our urban and rural forests.   We will be able to plant an additional 11,000 street trees. We will be able to partner with the community to establish a nursery and produce 200,000 native seedlings a year to support community and marae planting.  There will be funds for planting an additional 200 ha of native forest.   Surveying is currently underway to determine locations for street trees targeting local board areas with the lowest canopy cover.   This is part of a package of proposals to address climate change in addition to the planting and ecological restoration already underway.

We are currently deep into the second year of the Mayor’s million tree initiative.  The goal of planting between 250,000 and 350,000 trees was well overshot last year by focusing on 4 major sites for new trees.  The Waitematā Local Board area has had an overall increase in canopy cover from 368ha of urban forest in 2013, increasing to 371ha in 2016/2018.   This provides a promising indication that clearance of trees is not occurring as has widely been predicted even with the removal of tree protection rules over a decade ago.

All trees will reach a stage where they become unwell or unsafe, so if we can plan for the  future we can achieve much better outcomes.  The Recovery Budget supports a 10 year programme that takes a long-term view of tree management and planting. Trees aren’t like other infrastructure, if they are planted properly they will give dividends well into the future.   I fully support the Tupuna Maunga Authority taking this long-term view to plan for the restoration of indigenous native ecosystems. The removal of inappropriate exotic weeds and trees is part of that process.

Wynyard Quarter is one of the best examples of planting to a masterplan.  There are now over 800 maturing trees many of which have been successfully moved from Quay Street. However, planting is becoming more challenging because of changing weather patterns.  Last year there was barely a winter.  This year the traditional planting season is likely to move to July until September.  In all maintenance contracts there are now standard clauses to ensure streets trees are well looked after for two years before being handed over as council assets.

When tree removal is required, for example, for much needed housing, improvements to community amenities or for safety,  council has to ensure proper processes are followed, mitigation is provided for and appropriate tools are used to protect significant trees.  At Western Springs I want to see council push ahead to remove the unsafe and failing pine trees so significant planting can get underway during the planting season and the track opened up again for the community (read more about the Western Springs Native Bush restoration project here on the Auckland Council website).  The long-term benefits will be enjoyed by generations to come.

First published in Ponsonby News April 2021