To tree lovers, there's nothing quite so inflammatory as the sound of chainsaws. And when that angry buzz is invited to attack trees by a government select committee it is positively incendiary. The born-to-rule language which accompanies the invite is simply petrol on the fire. Here’s a sample:
We (the Resource Management Act Select Committee) recommend that the clause be amended so that a district rule could not prohibit or restrict the felling, trimming, damaging, or removal of any tree or group of trees in an urban environment unless they were identified in the (district) plan.
We recommend extending the commenceme
nt date for all clauses to 1 October 2009. This would provide a small window of time after the enactment of the bill for people to become familiar with and adapt to the new provisions. The provisions under subsections 151(1) and 151(2) would also come into force on 1 October 2009, but provide for existing rules for the protection of trees to be phased out by 1 January 2012.
The really controversial clause is Section 52 which the first italicised paragraph refers to and which was not removed during the bill's second reading. That means it could become part of the legislation unless Kiwis act. You have to ask yourself what our political worthies are on? Don't they know that people will listen politely to debate about global warming but feel powerless. But trees, local trees - that they understand, and a politically authorised tree-felling is just a match waiting to ignite this fire.
Here's just one earlier example: A few years ago a developer decided he would remove an old but prized pohutukawa in Royal Oak, Auckland. It stood at the forefront of his site - some would have said that was an advantage. But out came the chainsaws at dawn and down went the tree. When the court dealt with the developer, part of the sentence was that he should meet local residents face to face. He was metaphorically in the stocks and the court had armed us with rotten eggs, though in the end, none of it really compensated for our collective loss.
Fast forward to August 2009 when a government-dominated select committee ignores the majority of submitters and goes its own way. The inevitable result: a head on confrontation as more and more people realise what's happening to their urban tree cover. A small army is mobilising using websites, letter writing campaigns and public meetings to spread the word.
Incredibly it's necessary to re-state the benefits of tree cover, especially in Auckland where infill housing has taken its toll in once graceful suburbs. The Institute of Landscape Architects reminded the select committee that trees are important and functioning elements within urban environments. Aside from providing amenity, trees reduce heat loading in urban environments, and reduce and filter atmospheric pollution. These incidental environmental benefits of trees in urban environments were not generally recognised, said the Institute.
But the talk is all about costs. So here's the counter argument. Lisa Sanderson, vice President of the NZ Arboricultural Association has highlighted the economic benefits. They are supported by numerous studies worldwide, including one that demonstrates how trees increase revenue in business districts.
"A New York City Council study shows each council owned street tree (excluding trees in parks and on private property) brings to the city US$5.60 in benefits for every US$1 spent, totalling US$122million in increased revenue for the city" she says.
"This is a huge profit compared to the costs of processing resource consents – this proves that costs are not necessarily a reason to remove tree protection but a reason to keep it". Ms Sanderson says trees also provide benefits at individual household and business levels.
“Urban trees can reduce energy bills from excessive air conditioning and heating use by 10-50% 2. Trees also protect more properties from storm damage than those that are damaged by direct tree failures.”
Ms Sanderson adds: “Trees are life supporting systems, and can increase physical and mental health well being. Trees provide oxygen, reduce respiratory disorders, shade skin from UV damage, act as air filters in increasingly polluted urban environments and provide a pleasing and amenable environment. They provide stability for river banks and coastal cliffs and give filtered shade to water waterways, which is vital for the life of New Zealand fish and aquatic life.”
"Trees sequester our carbon and even help us keep our city temperatures and micro-climates controlled in light of climate change.”
At the moment the politicians aren't listening, but if one Royal Oak pohutukawa was any guide, they should.