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Clean your shoes Auckland, and save our kauri

Published: 19 December 2016

We’re loving kauri trees to death in the Waitakere Ranges, so it’s time to make some changes to ensure their survival.

Kauri dieback research, which is about to be released, has confirmed that the ranges is the most heavily affected area of kauri forest in New Zealand with infection rates having more than doubled in the last five years.

Environment and Community Chair Councillor Penny Hulse says these are alarming results and urgent action is required if we are to give Auckland’s iconic kauri forests a chance of survival.

“We have known about kauri dieback disease, and have been fighting it, for less than a decade however it is clear that its impact is gaining intensity at an alarming rate.

“It is time for all Aucklanders and visitors to our kauri forests to take greater accountability for their role in preventing the spread of this disease that is threatening the future of our kauri taonga.

“The council is stepping up its efforts; I’m calling on everyone else to play their part too,” says Cr Hulse.

The council has a network of footwear cleaning stations at track entry points and intersections across the Waitakere Ranges and in other kauri-forested areas.

Cr Hulse says monitoring of these stations and other protection measures has produced disappointing results.

“We know that more than 70 per cent of Aucklanders are aware of kauri dieback disease, however we’re not seeing that translate into affirmative action on the ground.

“A disappointing 83 per cent of park visitors are walking past cleaning stations without scrubbing their shoes with trigene, going off-track or disregarding closed tracks.

“We are stepping up our efforts this summer with more rigorous management of cleaning stations and the introduction of kauri dieback ambassadors in high use parts of the ranges.

“In the medium term we will be looking at areas to increase investment in protection measures and advocate for further research,” she says.

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 Waitakere 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,” he says.

As manager and guardian of the Waitakere Ranges Regional Park, the Auckland Council manages 279km of track. The recent survey has confirmed that 83km of track runs through infected areas.

Waitakere Ranges Local Board Chair Greg Presland says the community that lives and works in the ranges, and considers this forest their backyard, must (and do) play an important role as forest guardians.

“Much has been done to reroute tracks, improve drainage and construct boardwalks in high use areas. The Waitakere Ranges Local Board supports more investment in this work, so that we can enjoy and protect the forest.

“We acknowledge the work that so many Waitakere residents have already taken on to protect their properties, prevent the spread of the disease and raise awareness with others.

“We now urge locals to talk to their friends, families and visitors; make sure they always walk the talk when out there in the ranges and help us shift compliance with protection measures towards 100 per cent,” says Mr Presland.

Ark in the Park and Forest & Bird Waitakere Branch representative John Staniland says community groups and volunteers have an important role to play in protecting kauri too.

“Cascade Kauri in the northern reaches of the ranges is the hub of the Ark in the Park area where we manage pests to enable other species to thrive.

“This area has some of the most accessible, most ancient and most majestic kauri left standing in the ranges; we also have one of the highest concentrations of infection.

“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,” says Mr Staniland.

Mr Staniland says all Ark volunteers carry the phytosanitary spray, trigene, in small spray bottles for use when they travel through areas of kauri while carrying out essential pest control on off-track bait lines.

Research

Auckland Council, supported by the national Kauri Dieback Programme has recently completed a five-yearly survey of kauri in the Waitakere Ranges Regional Park. The survey results are currently being peer reviewed and will be reported early next year. The following represents high level results from the survey:

  • In the last five years kauri dieback infestation in the park has more than doubled from seven per cent to 19 per cent.
  • The park is now the most heavily diseased area in New Zealand and over half the substantial kauri areas contain symptoms of infection.
  • Infestation in the Waitakere Ranges Regional Park is greatest in those areas with highest foot traffic, including areas where intensive pest control is carried out.
  • There is no cure for this disease although some treatment methods are looking promising. In spite of intensive research programmes by a range of Crown research institutes, universities and government agencies, latency is a challenge. Until a cure is found attention is focused on restricting the spread.

The Auckland region and protection measures

Kauri dieback is present in some western local parks, isolated sites on the Awhitu peninsula, DOC reserves at Pakiri, Logue’s Bush (Tomarata), Albany and Okura Bush (Long Bay), and on many areas of private land.

Most of Auckland remains kauri dieback free including the Hunua Ranges, south-eastern and northern Auckland and Gulf Islands (excluding Great Barrier Island).

Actions taken in the Waitakere Ranges to date include

  • Track closures to create kauri protection zones over 10 per cent of the track network
  • Public education, signage and information (region-wide)
  • Track upgrades and additional maintenance (region-wide)
  • Strict hygiene protocols for all council staff and contractors working in the park (region-wide)
  • More than 100 footwear cleaning stations for visitors to the park (and in other locations region-wide)
  • Community engagement and awareness programmes (localised) including appointment by the Waitakere Ranges Local Board of a kauri dieback community advisor.