Council moves to close Waitākere Ranges and Hunua kauri areas

CHRIS McKEEN/STUFF

Te Kawerau a Maki placed a rahui, or customary ban, on the Waitakere Ranges on December 2. Auckland's biggest kauri forests are set to be off limits to the public from May. The city's environmental committee met on February 20 to discuss tougher measures to combat kauri dieback disease.

It has voted to look to close all forested areas of the Waitakere Ranges, aligning the Auckland Council-closed areas with a rahui established by Te Kawerau a Maki, chairwoman Penny Hulse said. It would also look to close high-risk kauri tracks in the Hunua Ranges to the southeast of the city. READ MORE:
* Auckland Council votes against full closure of Waitakere Ranges
* Rahui ceremony performed in Waitakere ranges
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The council wanted to implement the closures by May 1 after consultation with iwi and local boards.

Council moves to close Waitākere Ranges and Hunua kauri areasAUCKLAND COUNCIL/SUPPLED

Auckland Council environment and community committee chairwoman Penny Hulse. Auckland Mayor Phil Goff says he regards the move "as one of the most important issues that we will be confronting as a council - the potential extinction of an iconic species. "The current approach that council is taking is not working, for a variety of reasons, chief of which is the acceptance of Aucklanders.

"This decision sends a much stronger message that leaves no room for confusion," he added.

Council moves to close Waitākere Ranges and Hunua kauri areas

The Hunua Ranges are currently free of kauri dieback. Efforts to impose a rahui - or temporary ban - on affected areas late last year fell short of indicating any long-term solution to combating kauri dieback.

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Following today's announcement, Forest & Bird has said that total closure is the "only way" to stop the spread of the deadly pathogen. Dr Mels Barton, Secretary of the Trees Council, said, "we're asking concessionaires, local businesses, recreational groups and local landowners to support the closure of the ranges to save our precious kauri forests for future generations".

Council moves to close Waitākere Ranges and Hunua kauri areas

Kauri dieback as shown from the air.

John Edgar, Chair of The Waitakere Ranges Protection Society, said, "the mixed messaging over the summer months, where only some tracks were closed, led to total confusion from the public and tens of thousands of people continued to pour into the Ranges and spread kauri dieback disease". The closures would cost £3.8m in the first year, including £2.2 million to enforce the closures with targeted patrols. It was not yet budgeted for, however, and still had to be consulted on.

It would consult with businessess, concessionaires and recreational groups before closing the forested areas of the Waitakere Ranges. "There would be some exceptions that have already been negotiated in the Waitakere Ranges - beaches and grassland areas," Hulse said. "We are working with Te Kawerau a Maki on some other areas that may well be exceptions."

Goff said the council would still need the money from a targeted rate to pay for the closures. "None of us want to have our grandson or granddaughter on our knee and answer the question of: 'Grandad what did you do to stop the extinction of the iconic kauri tree?'" Goff said the council would need to communicate it as a prohibition in order to remove the confusion and "change the culture of Aucklanders".

"I live in the Hunuas and I support closing the high risk areas," he said. Councillors chose not to go with a slightly weaker option which would have allowed access to mainly pohutukawa forest in the 800 metres in from the coast. Hulse said the council put in place "a bunch of measures" to protect kauri in the Waitakere Ranges Regional Park in November and December and it monitored the impact those had had.

"It's really clear that people were still using the [Waitakere Ranges] - and ignoring both our closure notices and the rahui," she said. The Tree Council president Mels Barton said she was delighted the council "has now seen the urgency and the strength of the response that's needed". "We are not there yet.

But it is definitely a massive stride in the right direction." Barton said she thinks local backlash had prompted the council to take the stronger measures as well as the confusion in the council's previous message. It was a shame though that hundreds of thousands of people had still walked through the park over summer, she said.

The council officers' report to the committee said the current approach was not working to stop humans spreading the disease. "Based on track monitoring and reports from ambassadors, rangers and the public there is a high level of non-compliance with cleaning stations, track closures and calls to respect the rahui," it said. The council has already closed a third of the tracks in the Waitakere Ranges to protect kauri, nine of the 44 tracks had been closed since 2012.

A large boot cleaning station had been installed on the Kitekite Falls track near Piha, and five stations in the Hunua Ranges Regional Park. There had also been trials of phosphite injections into kauri in the park, and feral pig control. Officers also said there were uncertainties in fighting kauri dieback.

"A key issue is the unknown lag time between disease spread and observable symptoms, which limits our understanding of how effective various management options are." Waterborne movement of the disease was poorly understood and not addressed by the options in front of the council, the report said. "A significant investment may not stop the spread of the disease."

Hulse said the Government was looking at a Controlled Area Notice to cover all kauri areas, not just Auckland. Such a notice would crack down on those who did not clean all soil off their boots, the main way the disease was spread. "All of this North Island kauri land is under threat from kauri dieback so the Government are obviously wanting to deal with this as an integrated whole," she said.

The Waitakere Ranges Local Board advocated in December for all high risk tracks to be closed in the Waitakere Ranges Regional Park. Its chairman, Greg Presland, said it had now reviewed its position and it supported the council's decision. "There is too much confusion with the former position where only some high risk tracks were closed."

Te Kawerau a Maki and the community should be involved in the process over when and what tracks could be reopened, Presland said.

Kauri dieback disease is a fungus mainly spread on human shoes.

It slowly kills all kauri it infects, and there is currently no cure.

- Stuff

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