The indigenous vs. exotic vegetation debate issue refuses to die. In Auckland, there's been a major outcry over the city council's plans to replace 20 exotic trees with indigenous ones as part of the redevelopment of Queen St. Russell Brown covers it pretty well in three separate posts (he also links to my previous post on Rosemary McLeod's "eco-fascist" column).
Clearly, the issue seems to provoke a reaction out of all proportion to the trees themselves. Latest to pick up the torch is Dominion Post columnist Karl du Fresne in a piece titled "Eco-Nazis face a backlash" Du Fresne claims there's a conspiracy to eliminate exotic vegetation and replace it with natives, based on what he calls "an ideological fixation" that exotic plants don't belong.
Apparently, the protests in Auckland consistute "the stirrings of a backlash against the eco-Nazis", while in Wellington "there is mounting resistance to the eradication of Monterey pines on the Tinakorki Hills" (though it may be suggested that such "resistance" is a little tardy, given that the planned clearance of storm-damaged pines was completed by last June).
Du Fresne is convinced there are underhand agendas at work:
"I suspect the safety argument is a smokescreen. Concealed behind it is an ideological fixation that exotic trees don't belong in New Zealand and should be eliminated"
Well, if there were an evil cabal bent on wiping out introduced flora, perhaps as a prelude to invading Poland, you would expect to find some evidence of it in Wellington City Council's Town Belt vegetation management plan (for non-Wellingtonians, the Town Belt comprises all the wooded and green areas in the hills surrounding the city).
Unfortunately for the conspiracy theorists, the vision presented by this document is boringly balanced and inclusive:
"The variety of vegetation types on the Town Belt offers a range of recreational and visual experiences which is valued by the people of Wellington. There are those who will argue for the creation of pure native forest cover, and those who prefer the open understorey of the coniferous forest. There is scope to accommodate a range of preferences. The landscape and microclimates are varied enough to carry variety in the vegetation cover and, as this is a public reserve, the desires of as many of the community as practicable should be accommodated."
Admittedly, this is still consistent with the existence of eco-fascists who think all exotic trees should be eradicated. But they perhaps seem a little less scary once you realise they're not actually in charge -- or if they are, they have heroically subjected their views to the constraints of democracy. At the risk of sounding politically correct, any such exotic tree-haters are entitled to their views. Just as Rosemary McLeod is entitled to broadcast her breezily ignorant dislike of "sludgy-green" native vegetation.
The plan does propose that "native vegetation [be] established on a much greater proportion of the Town Belt than at the present time", moving from 20 percent at present to eventually 60 percent. This will involve some development of existing native regeneration, replacement of most grass and scrub, and, yes, some replacement of exotic conifers, "notably on Tinakori Hill".
Does this mean Council stormtroopers will be dispatched to uproot innocent Monterey pines under the cover of night? Not exactly. This shift in proportions is considered "a realistic approach within the timeframe of this plan" -- 50-100 years.
Both McLeod and du Fresne mention Mt Victoria, an iconic area of mixed conifer and eucalyptus, and a setting for some of Lord of the Rings. McLeod is agitated about its future:
Something like [Tinakori Hill] will happen on Mount Victoria, too, before long. The giant eucalypts must already offend the taste fascists, and the very hills here have to be political"
In fact, the plan states that "the largest area to be retained in conifers and mixed conifer/eucalypt forest is on Mt Victoria". It further points out that the conifers "are unlikely to regenerate on their own. Where continued exotic forest is desired, replanting will be necessary". In other words, the exotic trees will not just be left alone; they will be actively maintained.
Those who like colour will also be pleased to note that the Council plans to mow some of the grassland areas less frequently, allowing for seasonal (and principally exotic) flower displays.
It's always possible that the City Council plan is all a lie, and is just providing cover for the eco-fascists. But in the absence of any evidence to support this it's probably prudent to take the document at face value.
Personally, though I am not a fascist, eco- or otherwise, I welcome the planned move to 60 percent native vegetation. Like others, I'm fond of Mt Victoria's current exotic cover (which also produces charming bush fires whenever Wellington goes two weeks without rain in summer) but overall find the pine-dominated hills around much of the city rather monotonous. And as I pointed out in my previous post, there are large areas of nothing but grass and scrub which could be hugely improved by regenerating some of the original vegetation.
Others, of course, will disagree, and some will want to retain every last iconic bush of gorse and broom against intruders such as flowering southern rata. Given the necessarily drawn out processes involved in vegetation management, they will have every opportunity to make their views known. Sadly, though, they will required to argue rationally, on a case-by-case basis. Which is a whole lot less fun than getting worked up, shouting about nazis, and pretending you're a freedom fighter.
Categories: New Zealand, Wellington, Mt Victoria, Tinakori Hill, trees