Poisoned pines to be felled

23:51, Mar 24 2014
MURDER MOST FOUL: Council signs advise of the poisoned pines at Tomatea Point Reserve, at the northern end of Pakawau Beach village in Golden Bay.

OPINION: Faced with the moral dilemma of whether or not to publish a story about poisoned trees, I thought I'd give you the facts about it and let you decide for yourselves. Then, if you wish, you can give your opinions in the comments column.

The story is about three lone pine trees on Tasman District Council's Tomatea Point Reserve, at the northern end of Pakawau Beach village in Golden Bay.

A press release from Tasman District Council the week before last alerted me, and probably others who were unaware, to the fatal fate of the trees. The reserve was to be closed this week, "to remove large pine trees that were poisoned".

Tasman District Council staff have been monitoring the trees since last year, when it was first noticed the pines had been poisoned, and have had to make the unenviable decision to cut them down.

What has been described by Tasman District Councillor Martine Bouillier as a "selfish despicable act" has been investigated by the police who said it was difficult to prove who may be responsible. When the trees are cut down, so that no one will profit from their demise, the wood will go to charity.

While members of the local community have been informed through email networks, the moral dilemma for me is whether or not to give further coverage to the incident, lest it spawn copycat poisonings, as has been suggested by some may happen.


Tempted as I was to give the matter no further prominence and, obviously not wanting to spawn copycat activities of any kind, I also felt particularly uneasy about what felt to me like a form of censorship.

Let me explore for you the matter of the moral dilemma, something I had to look up to be sure I was using a term to adequately describe my feelings on the issue.

With the help of that essential research assistant Dr Google, the Standford Encyclopedia of Philosophy told me that moral dilemma is that requiring a decision based on two or more choices, where none result in a satisfactory outcome, which is exactly how I feel about it all.

Among the journalistic reasons for publishing any story is that it serve some public good and inform the public of facts "the people need to know" for the good of society and its citizens.

There is a duty to get the facts right, be truthful and avoid harm of anyone or anything in serving such public good.

Telling a story should also meet the public's expectation they will be informed of things they need to know. If the media are not going to inform the public, then you could ask, who will?

Now, I'd be the first to agree that three poisoned old pine trees on a reserve way out in the far reaches of Golden Bay may not exactly be cutting edge news the world needs to know. Many might not care.

Most likely, even people who are familiar with the reserve and the site will continue to drive past without so much as a glance to where the trees have stood for goodness-knows-how-long.

Some may notice something is missing, but not be able to say what.

Certainly the trees are not of great note size-wise, aesthetically or scientifically.

In that way they don't rate against the really notable trees of the district. And, certainly, there are lots of other pines and macrocarpas in the Pakawau area. For many, pines are just unwanted, exotic weeds and have no place here.

But these trees were full of character, forged from the exposed, wind-swept site they have obviously occupied for decades and some will miss these three old pines, regardless of their botanical origins, as a significant part of what makes the area special, their attachment to the area and the sense of place it gives them.

The pines may have been part of their holiday or childhood memories. Some may even have climbed the trees or picnicked under them or, perhaps, had their first summer holiday kiss under them.

All of us have places and trees like this in our lives.

They may not be special trees in many ways, but they are special to us.

The moral dilemma of the tree story is that were I not to tell it, people would not be disadvantaged. Apart from locals and those for whom the trees have been special, the wider public doesn't necessarily "need to know".

However, if I didn't tell it, the perpetrator will be protected from the issue having wider exposure in the media and from their identity potentially being sprung.

And those of you who follow the garden column will miss out on being informed of what I think is an important issue, that someone effectively stole the trees from the landscape and the people.

And those of you who pay rates are footing the felling bill.

Yet, in telling the story, there is, admittedly, the risk that it might give others similar ideas.

You could liken the issue to police investigations where details of key criminal intelligence need to be kept confidential to solve the crime.

But in this case, the poisoning was out in the public arena, as clearly written on the sign at the reserve, and the modus operandi used is one commonly practised and recommended on herbicide packets freely available at garden centres.

I would argue I am simply the messenger and that such cowardly acts have been committed on trees all over the country. They are nothing new and will continue to happen so long as people have a reason and criminal intent to kill trees.

What I think is important is that we should all be aware of the facts to engender informed discussion.

It should be obvious to all that trees on a reserve have a certain right to exist for the enjoyment of society. That's part of what reserves are for.

If that's a problem for some people, then they have legitimate options.

When my daughters were growing up we used to discuss definitions for words that weren't in the dictionary. One I always liked was "munted".

Our definition for munted was that it meant something was prematurely stuffed, as in "if you'd looked after those shoes/books/jeans/sweat shirt they wouldn't be munted" and would have lasted much longer.

I think the only thing I can say about the Pawakau pines is that they have been totally munted by someone in our community and we are paying the price.


■ Next time you are in the north of Golden Bay, stop in at Pakawau's Tomatea Point Reserve and see the community planting and coastal dune restoration project of sand hugging pingao, flaxes and the delicate native convolvulus or nihinihi, Convolvulus soldanella. Note also the pohutukawa, in seed now. Although not native to the South Island, they make tough coastal plants for exposed, windy sites. ■ Sow and grow your own pittosporum, in seed now. The name is from "pitta" or pitch and "spora", seed, referring to the sticky seeds in the capsules ripening now. ■ Hurry along and get your autumn spring bulbs in. Planting them late can result in short flower stems later. ■ Give lawns an autumn spray or dig out flat weeds if you want to stop them going to seed and to prevent them re-colonising the lawn next spring. ■ Trim hedges now to keep them in check before the growth slows down for autumn. ■ Get your compost heap going in the lingering warm weather by mixing dry, brown clippings leaves etc with wet green matter. This will stimulate action before you start adding all the autumn clean up. ■ Boost chrysanthemum flowers with a liquid feed for plants as they bud up. Chrysses are like tomato plants because they need lots of nitrogen early in the season for leafy growth then potash (potassium) as the flowers (crop) mature. ■ Keep planting winter greens, such as kale, the latest darling in the vegetable garden, and annuals as summer crops finish and gaps become available. -