Auckland's trees at the forefront of climate combat

Auckland’s low carbon plan isn’t just about reducing emissions, it is also focused on absorbing them, with the city looking to urban forests to both lock up carbon and contribute towards the plan’s goal of producing more food locally.

However, there are threats to the city’s existing green infrastructure from development, according to Deborah Yates, an elected representative on Auckland Council’s Waitemata Local Board.

Ms Yates was recently in Melbourne for the 202020 Vision Urban Forests Master Class.

She told The Fifth Estate that while Auckland had a “wonderful” urban forest, building knowledge about looking after it and replacing trees that reach end of life was important.

The Waitemata Local Board, which comprises the central city and inner suburbs is in the early stages of setting up a digital map of urban trees and engaging with stakeholders including academics. It is also assessing what data is available and how to most efficiently utilise software to develop an “iTrees” resource.

“What we are keen to do with the software is have open tree maps where the public can add trees,” Ms Yates said.

The iTree software will also enable the carbon sequestration benefits of the trees to be calculated, she said.

Free food

In addition to absorbing carbon emissions, trees can also contribute to managing high stormwater flows through absorbing water. They can also provide free food.

The Board has agreed to use a patch of park for a Feijoa forest project initiated by a community group, The Feijoa Guild, and it has also been planting fruit trees in another park and supports a number of community garden projects.

Deborah Yates, representative on Auckland Council’s Waitemat? Local Board.
Deborah Yates, representative on Auckland Council’s Waitemata Local Board.

One of the challenges is development pressures that are seeing trees on private land removed to make way for buildings.

“There is a huge amount of development going ahead,” Ms Yates said.

She said it is her understanding that six per cent of Auckland’s land was covered in trees before the removal of general tree protection by the NZ central government under the Resource Management Act in 2009. Up until that point, 60 per cent of trees were on private land and 15 per cent were protected.

“It is the 60 per cent on private land that is most at risk, with much increased development underway and so few trees protected. Which is why we’re wanting to involve the public in contributing data on trees on private land.”

Street trees in Auckland are managed by the transport agency, and also potentially at risk.

“We believe that iTree data will help convince the public, developers and council alike of the importance of maintaining the urban forest.”

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