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Kauri Dieback in the Waitakeres - Expert Reaction

Kauri dieback in the Waitakeres - Expert reaction

10 August 2017 - Auckland Council yesterday released a report stating that infection rates of kauri with dieback disease in the Waitakere Ranges Regional Park have more than doubled in the last five years.

The report shows that the number of kauri within the park has risen from 7.9% in 2011 (with a further 2.7% possibly infected) to 19.0% infected in 2016 (with a further 4.7% possibly infected).

This suggests the kauri protection zones as they are currently operated haven't slowed the spread of the disease, and some are calling for the park to be closed to the public to prevent further spread.

The SMC asked experts to comment on the report. Feel free to use these comments in your reporting.

Dr Cate Macinnis-Ng, plant ecologist, University of Auckland, comments:

"This report is very distressing to read. The Waitakere Ranges are a national treasure yet they have the worst concentration of kauri dieback in the country. There has clearly been a substantial increase in the numbers of infected kauri over the last five years and this tells us the current measures to protect kauri are not effective.

"Kauri dieback is spread when the microscopic pathogen that causes the infection is spread in soil. The high concentration of infected trees close to tracks compared to lower rates in less accessible parts of the regional park indicates that human activities are the most likely factor spreading infected soil.

"There are two issues that need to be addressed here. First, it is vital that people entering the park scrub their boots and other equipment to remove soil before and after entering areas with kauri in them. This is particularly important at this time of year when the tracks are thick with sticky mud. Usage rates of cleaning stations are quite low on some tracks. We all need to take responsibility for cleaning.

"The second issue has to do with the design of the cleaning stations. The report indicates that some of the cleaning stations are not fit for purpose. Contaminated soil isn't properly removed from the track. The new cleaning station at Tane Mahuta is designed in such a way that it is impossible to enter the track without going through the easy to use and highly effective cleaning system. We need more robust cleaning stations like these on all tracks.

"If these two measures are not implemented quickly, we will lose more trees to this horrible disease, so we need to start thinking about other approaches to protect the forest. Mana whenua have been advocating for a rahui (exclusion zone) for some time. By keeping people out of an area, there is potential to decrease the spread of the kauri dieback, buying time to find treatments and breed resistant trees.

"Enforcing an exclusion zone would be challenging in an area so close to a large city but they are used elsewhere in the world to conserve special areas. For instance, the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service has 'wilderness areas' that are pristine environments or contain sites of cultural significance to Aboriginal people. These areas have restricted access but are often in remote places.

"There is never going to be a quick-fix for kauri dieback. The report doesn't mention the size or age of trees that are dying but without doubt, some of the trees will be centuries old. Even if we found a cure tomorrow (highly unlikely), these trees will not be replaced in our life time, our children's lifetime or even our grandchildren's lifetime. Auckland Botanic Gardens, Auckland Council and MPI are to be commended for this important research, but we need to be working faster and smarter on this. We need more money for fundamental research and to find treatments.

"Until that happens, people need to clean, clean, clean and stick to the tracks."


ENDS


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