Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Speaking-Up For Arboreal Exoticism.

Space Invaders: Sadly, for the extreme conservationists, the conquests of ecological imperialism cannot be rolled back. The creation in Aotearoa/New Zealand of yet another Neo-Europe in the years following 1840 was completed in less than a century. The founders of Christchurch were part of that process, as these lofty oaks in Hagley Park attest.

THE FATE OF CHRISTCHURCH’S TREES is currently a low-level debate. It shouldn’t be. If the partisans of indigenous flora emerge triumphant over the lovers of Oaks and Cherry Trees, then Christchurch will become a season-less, olive-drab city. Retaining the beauty of their city’s exotic heritage vegetation requires Cantabrians to make their voices heard. Now.
 
Aucklanders, too, must stay alert. Not only are their city’s trees at risk of wholesale felling by property developers, but the likely next Mayor of Auckland, Phil Goff, is promising to repair the damage by planting a million trees every year – “mostly natives”. Auckland’s floral glory, like Christchurch’s, is under threat.
 
New Zealand is cited by Professor Alfred Crosby as the most extreme example of a “Neo-Europe” on Planet Earth. To a far greater extent than those who settled North America and Australia, New Zealand’s European colonists would dramatically transform the new landscape in which they found themselves. This “ecological imperialism”, as Professor Crosby describes the biological expansion of Europe, extended not only to the exotic flora introduced by the newcomers, but also to their release of a host of exotic fauna.
 
These cows and sheep now constitute the foundation of our key export industries. In this respect, New Zealand is no different to Canada, the United States or Australia. Its location in the planet’s southern temperate zone facilitated the rapid and extraordinarily successful transfer of agricultural, industrial, cultural and political processes perfected in Eurasia over a period of 10,000 years. Evidence of both the durability and extent of that success is all around us.
 
New Zealand’s success as a Neo-Europe is not, however, a matter of universal celebration. As Emeritus Professor of Nature Conservation at Lincoln University, Ian Spellerberg, wrote in June:
 
“There is more to plants that just species and varieties. There are plant communities with myriads of interactions between all the plant and animal species and their physical environment. Humans have mixed and stirred the biogeography of plants around the world. As well as causing plant extinctions, we have introduced exotic species into foreign surroundings and in doing so have extinguished the natural interactions. Such practices are as bad as habitat destruction and the ultimate threat to native plants – their extinction.”
 
At the heart of this argument lies the anachronistic desire to restore New Zealand’s natural environment to its pristine – that is to say pre-human – status.
 
That these islands boasted a unique natural environment is indisputable. Bereft of large reptilian and mammalian predators, it became a world of insects and birds. Its extreme geographical isolation encouraged the evolution of such extraordinary megafauna as the Moa and the Giant Weta.
 
It also meant that Aotearoa/New Zealand was the last substantial landmass on Planet Earth to be populated by human-beings. In marked contrast to the Americas and Australia, where Homo Sapiens have been present for between 25,000 and 50,000 years, the human settlement of these islands began a mere 800 years ago.
 
The New Zealand Bush: Evergreen - in every sense of the word.
 
The flora encountered by these Polynesian settlers was little changed from the age of the dinosaurs. The deciduous trees that register the transition of the seasons to contemporary New Zealanders with such beauty and bounty were almost entirely absent. With a handful of no doubt welcome exceptions, such as Kowhai yellow and blood-red Pohutukawa, the world the Maori encountered was dominated by vast forests of grey-green trees and ferns: an arboreal empire enlivened only by the cacophonous calling of birds.
 
It is easy to imagine how fervently a conservationist like Professor Spellerberg might wish to restore this vanished empire of trees and birds. It must have been a magical (if somewhat forbidding) place for the European botanists who first encountered it. In 1769, even after 600 years of sparse human habitation, much of the pre-human environment remained. Outside of Antarctica, that could not be said of any other place on Earth.
 
Sadly, for the extreme conservationists, the conquests of the ecological imperialists cannot be rolled back. The creation of yet another Neo-Europe in the years following 1840 was completed in less than a century. The founders of Christchurch were part of that process, as the lofty oaks in Hagley Park attest.
 
That it was a destructive process cannot be disputed, but it was also a creative process. The introduction of plants and animals from Europe, and elsewhere, has made New Zealand a staggeringly colourful and productive place. The idea that we should consciously deprive ourselves of the colour and variety bequeathed to us by exotic plant species – trees especially – bespeaks a romanticism that is as puritanical as it is misguided.
 
In his heart, Professor Spellerberg must understand that, ultimately, to achieve the sort of ecological restoration he is seeking, New Zealand would have to be emptied of human-beings. But only after every last oak, birch, poplar and pine had been uprooted and burned.
 
This essay was originally published in The Press of Tuesday, 15 August 2016.

18 comments:

peter petterson said...

Much of the bush in the Canterbury area would have been destroyed by the old Moa hunters anyway. They operated on burning the foliage Moas would have lived in.Did you know that Chris?

Chris Trotter said...

Yes, Peter, I did. Deliberate burn-off also accounts for most of the high Otago and Canterbury tussock lands.

jh said...

I agree about the oaks etc but i can also see the beauty of the slow growing natives.
Christchurch gets criticized for being too white. I hope this isn't related to those sentiments. These days you would never know?
.....
My Grandfather had a steep volcanic gully which had been part of his farm. The land had been eaten out by sheep so was mostly covered in tussock and grasses. At the center of the gully where the stream ran down there was a clearing by a waterfall, known as the washing place. His mother had done the washing there in the early days and there was a hoop set into the rock where the copper was boiled. From the house to the washing place a track led through a wrought iron gate and between cliff faces. Geraniums grew along the top of the cliffs.
When he finished farming he spent his retirement replanting it in native bush planting anything and everything , as long as it was native. It is now an overgrown tangle with no washing place.

Nick J said...

We have the Sanctuary in Wellington as an attempt to preserve what once was. There are others which is laudable. Realism helps though, what once was is no longer possible. And there will be further changes. Perhaps the goal of predator free NZ should really be to establish a new balance. Except by some not yet developed method such as regressive gene engineering the invaders are here to stay. So we need to be realistic. And for me that means Hagley Parks oaks and elms should stay.

Charles E said...

Good piece Chris.
I love all plants and in landscaping they all have their best place and best use. The distinction between native and exotic should be abandoned now as plants do not 'see it that way'. Their imperative is to spread everywhere they can so hitching a ride with animals, including humans is exactly what they do. Its just as natural as seeds flying in the wind or floating across water.

To me people like the immigrant ecologist you quote are not unfairly called 'botanical racists' here in highly modified but still beautifully bio-diverse NZ. No different from the idiots who complain every time the CCC plants more cabbage trees and flax, which are wonderful plants. To their credit the landscaping done by the CCC is excellent and mostly they plant the right species for the right spot, ignoring the calls for and against native or exotic. Time to get over that bigotry I say.

I would go further and declare plants like Radiata pine new natives as we now have what is scientifically called a NZ 'land race'. If you go to Monterey and see it in its native habitat where it’s almost extinct, it looks nothing like that now here where we have spent 150 years selecting it to be the super tree that gives us our world leading plantation forest industry.

One amusing or annoying thing here, particularly in unapologetically mostly white ChCh (yes we have a unique and precious culture we love too, with exotic trees & shrubs part that) is the twits on both sides of the debate who talk about our 'English trees & shrubs'. Blissfully unaware perhaps that the huge majority of them are from China, North America, continental Europe, the Middle East and central Asia. Very few are English. Even the so called English oak and Scots pine are all Europe and extend to Turkey and western Russia.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

I don't mind them in the parks. It is when they start spreading into the native bush that we should hammer the crap out of them and try to get rid of them as much is possible. Pines in particular.

Neil Miller said...

If we walk away now in one hundred years there would be a giant privet forest with goats and mynah birds. Any other outcome needs to be managed. Parks need to be maintained pruned composted fertilised and weeded. The bush needs to be weeded and have the vermin trapped. These things cost a lot of money and take a lot of time and are well worth it.

greywarbler said...

The encouragement to grow native plants should be followed as much as possible but the imports have been loved for their colour beauty shape and scent. Where they aren't pest plants, taking over, please you purists can we keep them?

A grove of kowhai mixed with dainty maple would be a beautiful mixture. Colourful exotics like liquidambar and native lower growing pseudowintera colorata would combine also. There is concern about the Taiwanese cherry which is a colourful shocking pink now, and quite prominent in Whangarei I noticed recently. The birds spread it and it is unfortunately becoming too widespread and councils are calling it a pest plant.

The Press had a fact-filled piece on timber use in Christchurch and NZ in the 2011 the year of the big earthquake, not oaks but using radiata as building timber: http://www.stuff.co.nz/the-press/opinion/4930640/Crunch-time-for-timber-industry

After hearing recent interviews about our trees I am sure a new approach is demanded. Perhaps now all trees need to be nurtured, and valued, even the ubiquitous pinus radiata. The Wood Council's forecast that our output would fall and stay low for 15 years, made me feel once again the pain of living in a country with mismanaging, dysfunctional series of governments.
Wood Council chairman Brian Stanley said the annual wood cut was expected to drop by half, to 2 million cubic metres within five years, and wouldn't pick up for about 15 years - when the next trees would be ready to cut. http://www.radionz.co.nz/news/business/311089/wood-processing-industry-under-threat-wood-council

Then there was the idea from another speaker that it was mad to put so much effort into removing wilding pines, when it could be put into planting more trees and letting the small trees continue. Our desire for a pristine bit of NZ nature can be considered fanciful in the light of our changed reality, and with climate change approaching inexorably.

Apparently the only reason we have a few stands of kauri now in Northland, after they grew thickly over large areas, is because in 1979 action was taken to stop them being logged out. Northland has been the area of concern discussed recently by Dean Baigent-Mercer who said that drones used over inaccessable areas there show skeletonised trees, blamed on possums.

We need to conserve our trees when we have so many pests, including us, decimating them:
http://www.radionz.co.nz/audio/player?audio_id=201776619
And Dean on his interests and motivation:
http://www.radionz.co.nz/audio/player?audio_id=201812250

Charles E said...

Two people talked of pines spreading.
This is not Radiata pine, as it is a minor culprit.
The one we cannot let go is Pinus contorta or Lodgepole. We have a virulent strain of it here and it and Scots pine should be eliminated as they will grow and have viable seed above the bush line whereas all others will not.
Douglas-fir will spread below the bushline on ungrazed land but then again it is an excellent timber and among the very best for carbon sequestration as it has huge carrying capacity per hectare and will live for a 1000 years perhaps.

It is also attractive for some. I remember at a forestry conference in Queenstown years ago a local council speaker said they had done a survey about the D-fir all around Q'town which is all wildings. More than half the people asked thought it was native, and a large majority really liked it.
To most people trees are just trees, and they are not interested where they first evolved. They just like them all and that is good.
As a species we have been farmers forever it seems and so we clear the land for grazing & crops.
Now we should all become farm foresters and reforest most of the hill country, as nature would if we let it alone.

greywarbler said...

I can't see why Pinus contorta (Lodgepole) should be regarded as a virulent strain. Wikipedia says it tends to grow in high dry areas, and its seed lasts for as long as 13 years though average to 6 years. The seeds are activated by forest fires and will grow and recover the area. It is apparently, strong, light and useful. Perhaps it is not liked as foresters want to keep their crops of pinus radiata strains pure.

Lodgepole pine is named for its common use as structural poles for the Native American tipi shelter. A typical tipi is constructed using 15 to 18 pines. The long, straight, and lightweight characteristics of the species made it ideal for horse transport in nomadic Plains buffalo hunting cultures. Tribes made long journeys across the Great Plains to secure lodgepole pines that only grew in mountainous areas.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pinus_contorta

We could have more plantations of the pine that produces pine nuts also.
From google :
Pine Nut - Incredible Edibles® ... Bringing Your Garden Alive With Fruit
www.edible.co.nz/fruits.php?fruitid=44_Pine%20Nut
Pine nuts are the edible seeds of pine trees (family Pinaceae, genus Pinus). About 20 species of pine produce seeds large enough to be worth harvesting; ...
and
Our Orchards - Pinoli Pine Nuts
www.pinoli.co.nz/our-orchards
The Marlborough region in the north-east of the South Island of New Zealand is ... to parts of the Mediterranean region, it is ideal for growing pine nut orchards.

Charles E said...

gw the contorta strain we have that spreads so virulently in the High Country is not the type of Lodgepole you refer to. We have that too and it is not a problem. There are several subspecies and the 'bad' one will grow way above the bushline and completely eclipse our alpine scree plants. I have seen it there and in the US, in the latter case at 13,000 feet. Up there it looks like bonsais as the harsh climate contorts it, hence the name.

And no it does not threaten the forest plantation industry, as species do not interbreed, or if they do they are not fertile, like Leyland cypress. It is 'only' a problem for farmland and conservation land which it and Scots pine would completely cover eventually if we let it. The planet would be fine with that as it needs reforestation but Kiwis mostly would not be. Some people advocate it. I know a bloke who thinks we should seed the entire High Country from the air with several types of conifer, plus introduce Timber Wolves and Cougars. I have often idly thought if we had Wolverines they would clean up the damn Strine possums. Trouble is they would clean up more than that including the odd small child I expect!

So although I advocate equal rights for so called exotics there are exceptions, which we call noxious. (Same applies to people, like the botanical bigot who replied to you Chris in The Press today. He has no understanding of our local culture which our magnificent deciduous trees are very much part of. He makes the ridiculous and insulting claim that our love of exotics is 'sentimentality'. How dare he.)

When it comes to exotic conifers by the way, most people do not follow why some spread so easily yet others don’t. It is mostly just two things: Small light seed that blows miles, plus unpalatable frost hardy seedlings. Radiata has neitherof these attributes.

Dennis Frank said...

There's a paradigm shift occurring in ecology. The views of Spellerberg & Crosby seem to evoke the fading paradigm. Like all established authorities, they present their perspective as being real. It is merely interpretation.

That old romantic notion of primeval nature was influential in the 19th century post-enlightenment culture & got recycled in the post-hippie back-to-nature global movement a century later - from which green politics emerged. Reconnecting to nature has become a healthy escape from urban life for many. There's a psychological down-side, however; green fundamentalism.

It comes from seeing nature as being something we are losing and ought to restore. Fair enough. Yet, as earlier commentators have noted, nature itself mixes & transforms ecosystems often - and humanity has always modified nature, as part of it.

An illuminating exposition of the new ecological paradigm documents this with many real-world examples: "The Moon in the Nautilus Shell" (Botkin, 2012). The profession is integrating the evolutionary perspective. It's also a pleasure to read a theoretician predisposed against abstraction. The rigor with which he grounds general principles in case studies of actual ecosystem transformations is refreshing.

greywarbler said...

Thanks Charles E and Dennis Frank
Useful stuff to put through my mental chipper or to take cuttings from!
I can understand the wish to rid those wilding pines if they are from such a pest subspecies.

Getting off subject - but I have a mere plant that I think would take over the country given a quarter of a chance and that is bindweed (twining convulvulus white flower). I hate its determined weedy ways. However I wonder about it as a case for genetic modification to graft onto some vegetable if it would grow in desert areas. There would be little patches of some edible something, small squash for instance, growing in all dips of the desert. The seeds could be dried and eaten as well. Could be useful.

greywarbler said...

@Dennis Franks
@CharlesE
While thinking about trees would you know if there is a project to plant fine wood trees for furniture or carving in plantations in NZ? I have heard of areas being saved or planted under a system of covenant? on farms. Are there pilot or trial plots in exotic timbers, hardwoods from Australia etc? I understand that there are some trees which are fire resistant.

Is there a small government office housing a few people with 'the knowledge' about types that will grow here and serve in different ways, not just concentrating on refining pinus radiata.

And do local bodies have a national agreement on guiding and controlling
people as to what trees to grow in town plots? On the one hand we should be planting more, but on the other hand there needs to be guidelines as to ones of suitable height, distance from fences, shade lines in winter etc.

greywarbler said...

A small tribute, if I may before we fly away from the trees, to indigenous trees and bird. Along with burnt trees and habitat other living things were lost, some became extinct, such as the huia. Collectors like Buller hunted them down, habitat went and these unique birds too.
http://www.listener.co.nz/current-affairs/science/the-last-huia/
a... pair of huias, without uttering a sound, appeared in a tree overhead, and as they were caressing each other with their beautiful bills, a charge of No. 6 brought both to the ground together”. At the end of the three-day trip Buller had bagged 16 huia.

The huia had no chance with people like Buller and settler fires burning out of control. Here is a report of forest burning from a 1887-1888 Fire Report.
8 February, 1888: on the 5th, a small portion of felled bush near Hastwell's Clearing, north of Masterton, was observed burning, signalling the start of the annual settlers' burn. However, it didn't take, and was extinguished next day by rain. Two days later, 8th, a southerly gale came through in the morning, the bush was seen to be on fire, and dwellings were lost. Six settlers were burnt out and the fire was about 200 acres in size.

And in the same year:
16 March: Norsewood, a settlement in the Seventy Mile Bush, was overrun by fire, rendering 36 families homeless. It had been settled for 15 years, and most of the bush in the surrounding countryside had been cleared. At about 10 am, a gale rose, and sent sparks into a clearing, resulting in a vigorous fire. The wind drove this fire towards Norsewood village, arriving in the afternoon at a time that most menfolk were away at work. Embers set multiple fires in the village as the fire swept through. A few buildings were saved by drapping them with wet blankets, but the fight was hopeless, and women and children abandoned the village. Those children at school were led by the teacher to a clearing to the north a mile to the north, on the road to Kopua, to join the evacuees. The school was destroyed, along with two churches, two public buildings and seven businesses. Some 23 dwellings were lost, numerous barns, outhouses and miles of fencing.

The Scandinavians brought to New Zealand had to walk miles through dense forest to land set aside for them in eastern North Island and then clear a space to live. They had to use fire along with sawmilling logs to get farming land. Then they could be burnt out as in the item above. Hard times for settlers. There was an area called Seventy Mile Bush, once.

Kennedy Warne in NZ Geographic 'Our Disappearing Forests' June-July 2014 records his impressions of tree stands in NZ. I think he wrote only 3 per cent of original kauris are still standing.
https://www.nzgeo.com/stories/the-future-of-our-forests/

Charles E said...

Greywarbler I think your best bet for knowledge of what to grow for specialist timber sources is your local branch of the Farm Forestry Assn. Join it perhaps and/or go on a field day and you will not only see interesting places and a wide range of trees but meet people of all walks of life with a plethora of tree growing knowledge. Local knowledge is always best.
Farm Foresters try out all kinds of species. They are great innovators.
I believe Maori carvers like totara and certainly there are small plantations of these. And stands of natural regeneration which are managed, i.e. thinned so the selected crop will thrive. In parts of NZ totara if managed like this will produce good sized saw logs in 35 years I understand.
Native beech has also been successfully managed as a crop and there are kauri plantations.
Currently a lot of ground durable eucalypts are being planted in drier parts for probable use in the wine industry by vintners who want untreated and stronger posts. Native birds love eucs so they are a vg option, despite concerns about bugs introduced from Aussie attacking them. Arguably at a stretch eucs are almost NZ natives, as fossil ones have been found. Huias would have liked them, and bellbirds and tuis sure doo. They are an excellent nurse crop for native forest restoration, since they will grow quickly in the open, and if space planted have sparse broad light permeable canopies which birds from nearby bush inhabit, then their droppings seed the forest floor. And they are related to pohutakawa.

Dennis Frank said...

I can't help much, sorry, other than to suggest permaculture experts as a likely source of advice. Succession planting may be somewhat traditional, but the theory & practice have been further developed by permaculturalists.

I did once attend a meeting of a tree-growers association but forget the name. I agree that trial-growing of trees for specialist timbers is a good idea but haven't heard of kiwi enterprise actually doing it. It would only be realistic if local climates approximated those the trees evolved adaption to. However, shelter belts can help in creating microclimates. Permaculture is a design-based discipline. It uses applied lateral-thinking.

greywarbler said...

Thanks Charles E. Lots of stuff there, thanks for the info. Good topic Chris. Makes a nice change from woodenhead Pinnochios in politics at present being trumped by the meister.