Call to Close Waitākere Ranges to Protect Kauri

9 August 2017   |   Press Release
The Tree Council, Waitakere Ranges Protection Society and Forest & Bird stand with Te Kawerau a Maki in calling for a rāhui and closure of the Waitakere Ranges Regional Park in response to the monitoring figures from Auckland Council’s latest survey of kauri dieback infection.

The results from the Waitakere Ranges have confirmed their worst fears about the spread of kauri dieback. While the average number of trees infected across the entire Waitakere Ranges may be 19% (more than doubled from 8% 5 years ago) the infection in areas where kauri dominates is actually affecting between 33% and 58% of trees.

The Council report states that  local extinction of kauri in areas like Piha, where the infection is worst, is highly likely within 5 years unless urgent and drastic action is taken now. Extinction of kauri across the entire Waitakere Ranges is possible within a generation.

It is clear the infection is being spread mainly by people, rather than wild animals, as the majority of the infection is along the track network and worst in the areas with heaviest foot traffic. Compliance by people with phytosanitary measures to scrub and spray shoes, dog feet, tyres and equipment is low and falling.

Auckland Council’s own report states that by continuing to allow recreational use to knowingly spread this Unwanted Organism to uninfected areas the Council is breaching the Biosecurity Act.

The Tree Council and the Waitakere Ranges Protection Society call on Auckland Council to use the precautionary principle and close the Waitakere Ranges Regional Park until they can implement an urgent programme of essential actions required to protect kauri and save them from extinction within the park.

The priorities for action are:

  1. Close the Regional Park until the following actions are implemented. This includes closing the Hillary Trail, which is the major source of infection. Tracks with infected kauri can be reopened once protective measures 4 and 5 are fully implemented on those tracks;
  2. Close all tracks to healthy kauri immediately and permanently, or until new knowledge tells us it is safe to reopen them;
  3. Apply enforcement measures to people using closed tracks and publicise these to make an example of those putting healthy kauri at risk;
  4. Accelerate the programme of building boardwalks and “dry” tracks to get people’s feet off kauri roots on tracks;
  5. Implement improved cleaning station design to make avoidance difficult and staff cleaning stations to educate track users about the importance of hygiene measures;
  6. Stop events like the Hillary Trail Marathon taking place on tracks with kauri and move to locations without these precious trees;
  7. Implement a programme of phosphite treatment on public land to keep individual trees alive.

“We must take drastic action now” says The Tree Council’s Secretary Dr Mels Barton. “The current measures are not working and infection rates have more than doubled in 5 years as a result of inadequate investment. When the required actions have been undertaken to keep kauri safe then the tracks can be reopened.”

Over recent years Auckland Council has cut the budget for Biosecurity work on kauri dieback and lost key staff. The Tree Council, Waitakere Ranges Protection Society and Forest and Bird consider that there is now an urgent requirement for significant investment by Auckland Council in re-routing and upgrading tracks to keep trampers off kauri roots and the design of the scrubbing stations needs to be significantly improved to make avoidance of the disinfection process extremely difficult. The cost of fully implementing the urgent actions required by Auckland Council will be around $50 million and the Council needs additional government funding to support this work. Enforcement action needs to be taken against people breaching the Biosecurity controls in the park.

“Auckland Council needs to have staff on the cleaning stations as we believe this is the only way to educate the public on how important it is that they comply with the requirements. No one wants to kill our kauri but there is a lot of disbelief in the community that people are responsible for the spread and this needs to be challenged to help everyone understand that they can do their bit to help and it is worth the effort.” says Waitakere Ranges Protection Society President John Edgar.

“Any delay in taking these essential actions now will mean that we lose this species locally because all these infected trees will die and more will continue to get infected. We don’t want to imagine a future without kauri in the Waitakere Ranges” says Nick Beveridge, Forest and Bird’s Regional Manager.

The Tree Council and the Waitakere Ranges Protection Society believe the Government needs to hand over responsibility from MPI to a new community Trust model for managing kauri dieback to work with communities and change attitudes, because delays will result in localised extinction of kauri in the Waitakere Ranges.

“The budget for managing kauri dieback disease needs to be significantly and immediately increased to include ground surveillance work, urgent research into a permanent cure for the disease, public education and phytosanitary measures that actually work” says Nick Beveridge for Forest & Bird.

“MPI’s management of this programme is incompetent and we need to change the model before it’s too late for kauri. Our research shows that people don’t trust MPI and other agencies, but they do trust information they get from community groups, so we have the ability to change attitudes and understanding. People power can save our trees” Mels Barton says.