The Waitākere Ranges Regional Park is now the most heavily kauri dieback-infected area currently recorded in New Zealand. Closure or restricted access to the parkland may need to be considered in order to protect the iconic species and the west coast’s treasured forest.
With no cure for kauri dieback disease and treatment options still being trialled, the Auckland region faces a very real threat – take urgent action in the Waitākere Ranges or risk losing kauri from our forests altogether.
Infection rate doubled in five years
Councillor Penny Hulse, Chair of the council’s Environment and Community Committee and Waitākere councillor, says the findings of a report into kauri in the Waitākere Ranges released today is a grim read.
“Despite the significant protection measures in place, kauri infection rates have more than doubled in the last five years with nearly one quarter of all kauri in the ranges likely to be infected with this devastating disease.
“As well as considering what this means for the future of the Waitākere Ranges, we must prevent the spread of kauri dieback to other parts of the region that are not yet touched by it.
“This means stronger protection measures and some very tough decisions,” she says.
Closure a 'last resort'
Cr Hulse says the council has shared the findings of the report with a wide group of stakeholders with a special interest in the Waitākere Ranges.
Waitākere Ranges Local Board Chair Greg Presland says the ranges is defined by its kauri forest and the thought of that changing is frightening for many west Aucklanders and visitors.
“While we must consider all the options for protecting our forest and managing the spread of this disease, closure of the ranges has to be a last resort.
“For some tracks, 83 per cent of park visitors are walking past cleaning stations without scrubbing their shoes with trigene, going off-track or disregarding closed tracks – making the need for closure more inevitable,” he says.
Protecting the backbone of the forest
Te Kawerau a Maki Executive Chair, Te Warena Taua, says mana whenua have struggled with kauri dieback disease and the implications of its spread.
“The taha wairua, the spiritual wellbeing, of Te Wao nui o Tiriwa (the Waitākere Ranges) is of utmost importance to us and a threat to the heart of this forest is devastating.
“The kauri is not only a king amongst trees, but a support system for the rest of the forest – at least 17 other species need the towering strength of the kauri to survive. It is the backbone of our forest ecosystem.
“A rahui, restricting access, may prevent further spread of this disease and, over time, allow the forest to heal itself,” he says.
Stopping the spread
John Edgar, representing the community-based Waitākere Ranges Protection Society, agrees closure or restricted access to the parkland may be the only option to halt the spread of the disease.
“Our communities have a strong sense of guardianship of these ranges and all of the flora and fauna that live within.
“Regardless of whether we’re looking for 100 per cent compliance at cleaning stations or staying out of a closed area, we have to get people behind the cause.
“The next steps from this report require a community-led response alongside the council’s efforts and any further research,” Mr Edgar says.
Kauri Rescue and The Tree Council’s representative Dr Mels Barton welcomes the report’s recommendations on access to the parkland and advocates for ongoing phosphite treatment research.
“Improvements to track surfaces and re-routing of tracks away from kauri are a good start but widening protection areas and limiting movement through infected areas through more significant closures are now necessary.
“Phosphite treatment trials are underway on private land in the ranges area and this needs to be an option we explore for the parkland in the near future,” says Dr Barton.
Ark in the Park and Forest & Bird Waitākere Branch representative, John Staniland, says community groups and volunteers working in the ranges have an important role to play in protecting kauri.
“It is vitally important that all of us, as champions of this forest, do all that we can to prevent the spread of this disease and help others to do the same,” Mr Staniland says.
Forest & Bird highlights the importance of protection measures to preventing the spread of the disease to other parts of the region and the country.
“This is devastating news for the Waitākere Ranges and a good reminder to be scrupulous in looking after those areas, like the Hunua Ranges and Waiheke Island, that have kauri forest untouched by the disease,” says Nick Beveridge, Forest & Bird’s regional manager for Auckland and Northland.
In addition to operational plans for managing kauri dieback that are already in place, such as education programmes, hygiene measures, track upgrades and maintenance, protection areas and track closures, a feral pig programme and monitoring work, the council will consider further funding options in its Long-term Plan.
Key findings from the report
- The Waitākere Ranges Regional Park now represents the most heavily kauri dieback infected area currently recorded in New Zealand.
- Kauri dieback infection rates have risen from 7.9 per cent infected and a further 2.7 per cent possibly infected in 2011 to 18.95 per cent infected and a further 4.65 per cent possibly infected in 2016.
- Of the distinct areas of kauri forest within the park which are above 5ha in size, 58.3 per cent are exhibiting symptoms of kauri dieback infection within them to some degree.
- The highest risk vector for Phytophthora agathidicida movement into new distinct locations is soil disturbance associated with human activity e.g. tracks, baitlines and informal routes.
- Phytosanitary stations must be upgraded to the most effective models available.
- Compliance with some form of phytosanitary procedure must increase if we are to prevent kauri dieback spread.
- Kauri protection zones, as they are currently operated, have not slowed the rate of expression of kauri dieback symptoms.
- Preparation of a Waitākere Ranges Regional Park Kauri Dieback Management Plan addressing access and management of human vectoring, options for feral pig control, using knowledge of kauri dieback distribution to plan more effectively and supporting and using research.
- Applying learnings to other non-symptomatic areas like the Hunua Ranges, Waiheke Island and northern regional parks to reduce risk of incursion.
An independent review of the merit, implications and practicality of preventing public access to the Waitākere Ranges Regional Park be carried out.
Click here to read the full report [PDF 9MB]