23 Dec 2015

Arborist turns himself in after chainsaw attack

5:22 pm on 23 December 2015

An arborist who has been staging a sit-in up a west Auckland kauri tree has come down and turned himself into police after its trunk was attacked with chainsaws.

A video shows the moment the tree was attacked with a chainsaw while Johno Smith sat in its branches.

Warning video contains some swearing:

Mr Smith was issued a trespass notice over a week ago after he climbed the Titirangi tree in the second wave of attempts to stop a property developer cutting it down.

The kauri was the subject of protest action and a sit-in earlier this year. On December 11, activist Johno Smith re-ignited the protest, the kauri and setting up camp.

He remained in the tree until today when he climbed down to help try to save the damaged kauri, which was attacked and ring barked in an effort to kill it. Efforts are being made to save it.

Mr Smith has been charged with trespass and has been bailed to appear in the Waitakere District Court on 6 January.

He was going to come down peacefully this afternoon anyway, he said.

"It's definitely not how I anticipated coming down. It's a sad day and I'm pretty cut up inside about what has happened."

Save Our Kauri group spokeswoman Aprilanne Bonar said Mr Smith was up the tree when a group of people dressed in black turned up, produced chainsaws and took to the bottom of the tree about 6.16am today.

The West Auckland Kauri was attacked with a chainsaw, while a protester sat in its branches.

Save Our Kauri says the tree was attacked early this morning. Photo: Supplied

The men took off when shocked neighbours called out to them.

"The ring barking around the tree is approximately 15cm wide and about 2cm deep," she said.

"We're currently working with the community and arborists on grafting the wound."

But Mr Smith said he feared the tree couldn't be saved.

"It's pretty much a certain death sentence," he said.

The owners of the property on which the kauri sits had planned to fell the tree so they could build on the section but in March, after a vocal campaign and a four-day sit-in up the tree by activist Michael Tavares, they gave an assurance the tree was safe.

In an open letter, John Lenihan and Jane Greensmith said they would let the kauri and a mature rimu tree remain on the Titirangi property.

Tree climber Michael Tavares who climbed a 500-year-old West Auckland kauri tree in a bid to save it from being felled

Earlier this year Michael Tavares spent four days in the kauri tree in a campaign to ensure it would not be cut down. Photo: RNZ / Diego Opatowski

But they also said in the letter they wanted to hand the responsibility to others, including the council, to buy the land and compensate them.

A council-appointed mediator brought in to help discussions between the owners and campaigners said the owners had a valid resource consent, granted by Auckland Council, to build two houses on adjoining sites and remove the tree.

Ms Bonar said on Monday Save Our Kauri had filed High Court action applying for a judicial review of the consent process.

"We have been in talks with our barristers and the Lenihans' barristers all day yesterday to try to reach an agreement, and we were hopeful of an agreement up until late last night.

"This is a cowardly and malicious act."

When he scaled the kauri on December 11, Mr Smith said the tree was a "beautiful specimen".

"I'm really not concerned about my safety...I'm well skilled on rope and have all my systems set now, and also have sleeping arrangements, food, water and a good support team."

He said he was not worried about his safety, because he had worked in the arboricultural industry for 14 years and knew no contractor would cut down the tree while he was in it.

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