Tree activist says Auckland Council has 'no respect for the dead' after firewood giveaway

A woman angry at the felling of pine trees in an Auckland native bush area has accused the council of "spitting on the bones of our ancestors" after some of it was given away as firewood. 

Auckland Council is in the process of clearing 198 pines from the native bush area around Western Springs to make way for more native trees, such as kauri, pūriri, taraire and tānekahe, and "provide an important habitat for a range of wildlife including our native tui, grey warbler and silvereye".

Work started about a month ago. Dozens of the radiata pines were already dead, the council said in April, and posed a safety risk. The rest are at the end of their natural lives, having been planted in the 1920s. There used to be 700 of them. 

"It is likely that most of the pines, even those with the appearance of healthy foliage, are compromised by internal decay," the council said in a newsletter to interested parties. "This means that by only removing the obviously unhealthy trees, the associated safety concerns wouldn't adequately be addressed."

The go-ahead for the trees' removal was approved by the Waitemata Local Board in November 2020. Before work began, a number of native copper skinks were found and relocated to the nearby Auckland Zoo. 

One of those who formally objected to the cull was Lisa Prager, longtime council critic and activist who has previously fought against the planting of native trees and the installation of cycleways.

She was arrested in 2018 after attacking what she called a "dangerous" traffic island with a hammer and crowbar, and in 2019 compared the removal of trees on Mt Albert to the Holocaust. 

In an open letter to Auckland Council chief executive Jim Stabback, also sent to Newshub, Prager said the pine trees' removal was causing "enormous distress and hurt", but the council's latest move is an "INSULT".

A recent email from a council representative to the Western Springs community liaison group said there "have been some enquiries from the group regarding firewood being made available to residents".

"Treescape have advised today that they will deliver approximately 10 [cubic  metres] of firewood... to the grass berm opposite 95 Old Mill Road in Western Springs. This firewood is available to anyone on a first come, first serve basis." 

Lisa Prager attacks a "dangerous" traffic island.
Lisa Prager attacks a "dangerous" traffic island. Photo credit: Newshub.

Accompanying the text was a photo of a playground with a black circle drawn on it, showing where the firewood would be, and a link to an online survey where readers could discover their "carbon footprint". 

But not everyone welcomed the invitation to free kindling. 

"Have you NO respect for the dead!" Prager wrote in her letter. "The blatant hypocrisy of your organisation's tag line at the end of the email sent to the Community Liaison Group working to save the forest is beyond the Pale.

"Please immediately stop this insult and publicly apologise for the email... [the] offer to dump wood for the public to scavenge is extremely offensive behavior, one day after such massive devastation to our largest urban carbon sink".

The council closed the area of the park around the trees in 2018, as they were "within falling distance from Western Springs Stadium and Auckland Zoo, as well as publicly accessible areas of the park and private properties, which is why they need to be safely removed". 

Dr Claudia Wyss, Auckland Council's director of customer and community services, says there were several conversations held with locals and iwi during the resource consent process for the project. During this, there was a suggestion for Auckland Council to provide firewood for the community to use at their discretion.

"Today we fulfilled that commitment by making approximately 10 cubic meters of free firewood publicly available on a first-come, first-served basis," Wyss says.

"This initiative has been well received by the majority of the local community and is something we would consider doing again in the future."

She also reiterated that more than 8000 native trees and shrubs will be planted during the next stage of the project.

The Waitemata Local Board did not immediately reply to Newshub's request for a response.