20 Feb 2018

Kauri dieback: Council committee votes for more closures

1:47 pm on 20 February 2018

Auckland Council's environment committee has voted unanimously for more extensive closures in the Waitakere Ranges to protect against Kauri dieback disease.

There are worries that visitors flout the rules in Waipoua forest, putting iconic trees like Tane Mahuta at risk of the fatal disease

Kauri dieback disease can kill the trees, and has been spreading rapidly. Photo: RNZ/Lois Williams

The council has also agreed to close high-risk tracks in the Hunua Ranges, an area that has not yet been infected with the disease.

The new measures will mean the entire forested area of the Waitakere Ranges Regional Park will be closed to the public.

There will be some exceptions, such as beach areas, pastureland and some tracks that are deemed to be safe.

The council also wants a better enforcement, with targeted patrols of the closed areas.

The council is also seeking support from the government to put in place controlled area notices for both areas.

That would restrict movement of at-risk materials, like soil, in and out of the areas.

It would also make using shoe cleaning equipment mandatory.

The council is still to decide which areas will be exempt from the closure.

The local iwi, Te Kawerau a Maki put a rahui in place over the whole Waitakere Ranges area late last year to try and stop the spread of kauri dieback disease.

However, the council in December voted not to completely close the area.

A report said there was widespread non-compliance with track closures and boot-wash facilities set up over the summer to try to contain the spread of the disease.

"The current approach is not working and there is still a risk of human-based activity spreading the disease," the report to the Community and Environment Committee said.

Track closures in the Hunua Ranges in the south-east aim to protect the area from any spread of the disease from the Waitākeres.

In December the council closed 44 tracks in the most sensitive areas of the Waitākere Ranges, and an unenforceable rāhui or ban, has been imposed by the local iwi, Te Kawerau ā Maki.

The iwi's Edward Ashby told Nine to Noon a lot of visitors had been telling volunteers they would not obey the rāhui, and would only stay away if council told them to.

"Them just announcing it being closed will have an impact but I think on top of that the enforcement measures absolutely will be a deterrent," he said.

"This is a measure that council in our view could have done earlier but we absolutely support and are thankful that we've come to this position now."

Mr Ashby said there were still healthy kauri and it was not too late for the council to act.

Auckland Council biodiversity manager Rachel Kelleher also spoke to Nine to Noon, and said some tracks and recreational areas would remain open under the proposed closures.

She said using controlled area notices would enable people to be trespassed and would allow prosecutions of visitors who walked out with soil on their boots, because many people had ignored warnings.

"We've upgraded six tracks, we've closed 44 tracks, we've permanently disestablished nine tracks, we've had the ambassador programme," she said

"They've talked to tens of thousands of people and we're still seeing different levels of awareness with those actions but also of compliance with those actions."

Ms Kelleher said the proposals could mean security guards at entry points and rangers carrying out patrols.

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