The Kapiti tree police

February 19th, 2014 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

The Dom Post reports:

A pair of elderly environmentalists are being taken to court for felling and trimming native they believed were rotten and dangerous.

So did this couple stroll onto public land and start felling trees?

Last year they employed an arborist to clean up what they called “a mass of tangled and broken branches, dead, diseased and dangerous trees” in a stand of bush on their newly bought property in Oriwa Cres.

The work included felling and trimming three kohekohe, three tawa and a mahoe.

So it was their tree on their property.

They have been summoned to appear in Levin District Court next week, charged with contravening the District Plan by “modifying naturally occurring indigenous vegetation” more than four metres tall and with a trunk circumference of more than 95cm.

The maximum penalty, under the Resource Management Act, is two years’ imprisonment or a fine of $300,000.

The problem is that the rule exists. Councils should not be interfering with what people do with their trees on their land unless the trees are of some special distinction.

At one point, the council sent a uniformed police officer to their house with a search warrant, accompanied by an ecological specialist.

Were they searching for kidnapped trees?

Wellington City Council has no rules regarding trimming native trees on private property. It is up to the owners.

As it should be.

UPDATE: Law changes made last year (and in 2009) mean these sort of idiotic rules will soon be illegal. Councils can no longer make blanket tree protection bylaws.  There is a two year transitional period, which means their legacy rules still apply until Sep 2015, but after that property owners will not need to ask Councils for permission to trim or fell their own trees – unless a specific tree or group of trees has been identified as requiring protection..

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29 Responses to “The Kapiti tree police”

  1. virtualmark (1,474 comments) says:

    So the Police can’t be bothered prosecuting flagrant breaches of election laws. But turn up to hear a complaint that someone chopped down some diseased native trees that were on their own property?

    Earth to Police Headquarters, come in please …

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  2. flipper (3,563 comments) says:

    “ …..Councils should not be interfering with what people do with their trees on their land unless the trees are of some special distinction…. “.
    At one point, the council sent a uniformed police officer to their house with a search warrant, accompanied by an ecological specialist.
    Were they searching for kidnapped trees?

    ****
    Excellent observation David.

    For those that do not know the powers of entry available to Loc Bods under various bits of legislation are extraordinary, and in many respects, exceed those of Police officers.

    Last year, from memory, one KB commenter related the delightful story of an obnoxious Dist Council wallah marching on to a dairy farm and when challenged produced a warrant specifying that he had an absolute right of entry. The farmer studied the warrant carefully, and then unlocked the gate. The obnoxious one entered the farm. But when he came to leave he found that his vehicle had been “impounded” by being locked, quite securely, in the paddock. The farmer politely pointed to the wording of the warrant that specified “entry”. It said nothing about leaving. The farmer said that since he was relying on the warrant to grant entry, he was entitled to rely upon the warrant to decline exit.

    Loud shouting and threats followed ….with the obnoxious one eventually summoning the Police via cellphone. It took quite some negotiating before the farmer agreed to unlock the gate, and release the vehicle which he carefully noted had entered his property without permission. (paraphrased from memory)

    Not at all dissimilar to the tree police, but such nonsense is typical of the garbage that emanated from Kapiti when it was run by Rowan…an absolute mayoral disaster.
    Can we expect to see more of this officious Council garbage when the new Williamson pool regulations take effect??? You betcha 

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  3. Sector 7g (236 comments) says:

    “Councils should not be interfering with what people do with their trees on their land unless the trees are of some special distinction.”

    And this comment sums up the problem. What were the names of the trees again?

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  4. Ed Snack (1,738 comments) says:

    Luckily these sort of laws are on the way out. Otherwise, you’d be a fool to allow ANY native vegetation to grow on your “property” as you would have no control over what sort of rules might be introduced.

    These sort of rules were introduced in Auckland about 15-20 years ago; any natives over I think 3 m was protected. My neighbour at the time went out next day and chainsawed every native on the property regardless of height (though they were all probably marginally under 3 m). Garden centres also reported at the time as I recall that sales of natives that could/would grow over 3 m dropped right off; who wants to get stuck with a 4 m Pittosporum for example that you simply can’t touch for fear of prosecution, especially when it could get to that height in a couple of years.

    A good example of why many if not most town planners should be made to undergo compulsory re-education, a ten year course held on Campbell Island say.

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  5. Mark Thomson (85 comments) says:

    Riiigghht… private property rights.

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  6. Ashley Schaeffer (407 comments) says:

    A pair of elderly environmentalists are being taken to court for felling and trimming native trees…

    Delicious irony.

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  7. calendar girl (1,175 comments) says:

    “Law changes made last year (and in 2009) mean these sort of idiotic rules will soon be illegal. Councils can no longer make blanket tree protection bylaws. There is a two year transitional period, which means their legacy rules still apply until Sep 2015…. ”

    Won’t help these poor sods then. Why did the National Government take so long to bring about its much-publicised change? Or maybe that was the fault of Parliament – unquestionably the least efficient operation in the country.

    (On second thoughts, that the Court system may be the least efficient.)

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  8. James Stephenson (2,033 comments) says:

    “Law changes made last year (and in 2009) mean these sort of idiotic rules will soon be illegal.

    Unfortunately it appears that Auckland council can still designate any building with weatherboards on it as “heritage”…

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  9. Shunda barunda (2,965 comments) says:

    I love trees, I think they add something irreplaceable to the urban environment, especially old trees that become iconic landmarks that can connect people to an area over many generations.

    But after years in the landscaping industry, I have changed my view on these protection rules, they are stupid, unworkable, and ultimately cause there to be fewer ‘attractive’ trees in the urban environment.

    Not every tree or shrub has value that require such blanket protection, and rules like this will stifle the enthusiasm to plant the larger more attractive species in the first place.

    Stupid rules based on ideological standpoints and not common sense almost always do more damage to the very thing they are trying to protect.

    It pisses me of when an iconic tree is cut down unnecessarily by some redneck wielding a chainsaw, but Blanket rules protecting native scrub is hardly the answer.

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  10. RRM (9,467 comments) says:

    Where a specific tree on someone’s private property DOES have council bylaw protection, of course the Council assumes all costs and liabilities involved with its pruning and upkeep, right?

    Right??

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  11. Colinxy (10 comments) says:

    This is why I refuse to have natives on my property.

    While there may be some sensible improvements to the RMA, the Greens are almost inevitable to get power in some future election and as such these crazy laws will be re-introduced.

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  12. johnwellingtonwells (121 comments) says:

    of course they could dig them out and burn the evidence – doubt if the Council would have a register of trees. Just plant replacements

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  13. goldnkiwi (994 comments) says:

    Grandparents had a landmark ‘macrocarpa’ tree on St Heliers Bay Rd, 20 odd years ago now, doing things with it was an issue then, now that tree was dangerous. Not a lot has changed obviously. What qualifies one as an arborist? Should they have known about the regulations?

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  14. srylands (386 comments) says:

    I live in Kapiti. I was about to take a saw to the pohutukawa tree that is interfering with my overhead Vodafone cable. I guess I can’t do that without a consent.

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  15. wikiriwhis business (3,883 comments) says:

    The council had to get in a prosecution before the law changed.

    Reminds me of Roger Douglas pummeling student unions before he retired. The fascism still remains.

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  16. 2boyz (250 comments) says:

    And yet if one of the rotten trees or branches fell over/off and injured or killed someone or damaged property, council would more than likely be first in line to prosecute them for not taking all care to make the stand of trees safe.

    Kapiti Coast DC, going after older rate payers since I don’t know when.

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  17. labrator (1,750 comments) says:

    A circumference of 95cm is a diameter of ~30cm. That’s a pretty damn small tree even if over 4m tall.

    I live in Kapiti. I was about to take a saw to the pohutukawa tree that is interfering with my overhead Vodafone cable. I guess I can’t do that without a consent.

    You generally have the right to prune appropriately. If you meant cutting it down to get better internet then you probably would be out of luck as well as having your priorities wrong.

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  18. Albert_Ross (249 comments) says:

    Does seem to me that they have a strong case against the arborist they employed. However stupid the rules, he should have known them and informed the property owners about them.

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  19. srylands (386 comments) says:

    “If you meant cutting it down to get better internet then you probably would be out of luck as well as having your priorities wrong.”

    No I meant cutting off the interfering branch. If I don’t do this next storm there will be no internet.

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  20. igm (1,413 comments) says:

    This is typical left-wing envious attitude of bureaucrats that festoon offices of local and central government. They are all self-entitled arrogant tossers to deal with on any matter, yet they are paid a damn lot more than anyone performing a far more complex job in the private sector. They are all stalwarts of PSA, and jump to the call of their union masters whenever the occasion may arise. Once again legacies of Geoffrey Palmer’s Local Government Amendment Act, he will be remembered for the ruination of councils such as Tawa, Feilding, Foxton, etc., where they ticked along with realistic rates, everything maintained to an acceptable level, and no bureaucrats, just industrious and caring staff. Now these are all riddled with debt, infrastructure needing upgrading, and unacceptable rates.

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  21. Colville (2,081 comments) says:

    A circumference of 95cm is a diameter of ~30cm. That’s a pretty damn small tree even if over 4m tall.

    I have a native tree I know was planted in 1961, it is probably just on 95 cm circ, I can measure it and get it over or under depending on how high off the ground. It is probably 15 meters high. Its a big tree. I have a totara that is a bit taller and only 80 cm circ. Same vintage.

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  22. Colville (2,081 comments) says:

    I have looked at buying a 4 ha block of land on SH1 in Kapiti for development and run up against this problem.
    Land had (has?) a number of very large Pohutukawas on it that would have needed to get moved. Pohuts are not “native” to Kapiti they are imports from up north, in the end I gave up beating my head against this particular issue and gave it away under due dilligance. Life is too short to argue with fu*kwits at Councils.
    Pity, 16 units with sea views would have been very nice.

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  23. johnwellingtonwells (121 comments) says:

    Where’s Andrew Williams?

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  24. slijmbal (1,213 comments) says:

    The latest Auckland plan talks about areas of special significance or similar Orwellian speak.

    Apparently, we are in one such area but cannot be told what restrictions will be placed on us as part of this. This is bordering a reserve where there is a very large Norfolk pine that scares the s**ts out of us as if it falls it will probably take out our house. On council controlled land of course. The reserve is also a particularly effective nursery for possum, rats and the imported Ozzie bright green parrots!!

    Go figure – I presume if I cut down a native on my own property that we run as bush (in Auckland) we will quite likely be liable for one or other prosecution based size of trees many of which can grow to 4m+ in less than 10 years and obviously are endangered (not).

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  25. OneTrack (2,613 comments) says:

    “Luckily these sort of laws are on the way out.”

    Until the next election, when the red-green taniwha will again be let loose.

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  26. lolitasbrother (482 comments) says:

    Not tough enough.
    I take out useless Council trees all the time, on Council property.
    The neighbours say thanks a lot dude, that disgusting old native tree, how we hated it,
    Nice to see your Magnolia going well

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  27. edhunter (497 comments) says:

    Not saying it’s not a stupid law, but are we now choosing what laws we can ignore?
    Also not very savvy for “environmentalists” are they?

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  28. ross69 (3,652 comments) says:

    According to the council, the couple “severely pruned” or destroyed 70 trees. That’s a large number. One wonders why the couple bought the property! Why not buy a property with relatively few trees?

    I actually have some sympathy for the council. Every region has trees which are protected. In this case the arborist should have known better, and the couple should have purchased a property that they could manage without having to harm a shitload of a trees.

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  29. igm (1,413 comments) says:

    ross69: Your views are best suited to “The Standard”, where those of envy and no substance congregate. Your losing and baseless comments are pissing most on this site off.

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