Protestors to occupy Ōtāhuhu maunga

By Will Trafford

Protestors are threatening to set up camp on Ōtāhuhu maunga ‘if and when the chainsaws come out’.

The residents oppose a plan by the Tūpuna Maunga Authority to fell 278 exotic trees, which the authority says they will replace with natives, 'to restore the wairua and mauri of the maunga'.

Shirley Waru (Te Rarawa o Ngāpui / Te Uri o Tai) who leads the Respect Mt Richmond / Ōtāhuhu group says her group's concerned about the authority’s plans to rid Tāmaki Makaurau / Auckland’s volcanic cones of around 2500 non-native trees.

The Maunga of Tāmaki Makaurau were returned to the 13 mana whenua iwi and hapū of Auckland as part of a 2014 treaty settlement. The Tūpuna Maunga Authority was established to restore the maunga (most of which were pā sites) to their pre-colonisation state.

Waru says the plan will rid Ōtāhuhu maunga of 75 percent of its tree cover, restricting residents’ (many of whom she says are Māori and Pasifika) access to green spaces.

“A 2018 Auckland Council survey showed this area was down to only 8% tree canopy cover – and that was before the authority felled the olive grove here and chopped down 153 exotic trees on Māngere maunga. And it was also before the intensive housing developments that have since sprung up in the neighbourhood,” she said.

The authority’s board which is made up of mana whenua and Auckland council representatives rejects Waru's claim telling Te Ao Māori News it has “already successfully planted 11,000 native plants on Ōtāhuhu” and “The wider restoration programme will ensure that over 39,000 native plants will be planted by 2024”.

The authority says 165 exotic trees will remain on the maunga.

Waru claims the new plants are “entirely low-growing species such as flaxes and grasses, rather than tall tree species. She says the removal of the exotic trees had been bad for local wildlife.

“In 2019 the authority destroyed a stunning grove of around 100 old olive trees here, leaving dry, barren eroding ground in their wake. The ruru (moreporks) left and never returned.”

Shirley Waru of protest group "Respect Mt Richmond / Ōtāhuhu"

Shirley Waru of protest group 'Respect Mt Richmond / Ōtāhuhu' says she and other locals will occupy Ōtāhuhu maunga ‘if and when the chainsaws come out’.  Photo / Supplied

Waru says the council also removed a rugby league field which benefited the local community. The council says the field had to go due to subsidence and says the local rugby league club had acknowledged it was no longer fit for purpose.

The authority defends the planting of flaxes and other wetland species, such as toetoe and tī kouka, saying in the future the plants will play a crucial role in restoring mahinga toi (cultural arts and craft) practices.

Waru acknowledges her whakapapa is not of the region.

“I have tried speaking with some of the local kaumātua about this, but they clam up”.

Waru claims the authority is not exercising kaitiakitanga over the maunga if it fells the trees.

“Protecting Papatūānuku and her children such as the trees and birds is at the centre of Mātauranga Māori, for it is they who are the kaitiaki,” she said.

The authority says among the 39,000 natives to be planted are a wide variety of different species which will ‘encourage a broader range of biodiversity outcomes than is currently present.’

‘Over time we will be restoring a number of different ecosystem types including wetland, pūriri forest and skink habitat areas.’

Waru says she does not know exactly when the authority plans to take the Ōtāhuhu trees down but says she and other locals stand ready to occupy the maunga.