There are growing calls to build more tracks in the upper North Island to provide kauri-free alternatives in order to save the species from extinction.
The Walking Access Commission, NZ Recreation Association (NZRA) and Federated Mountain Clubs (FMC) have called for a funded multi-agency strategy to ensure the future of outdoor recreation in the north.
It comes after a number of high-profile forest closures to prevent the spread of kauri dieback disease and as DOC consults on closing a further 24 tracks.
In a report to the Walking Access Commission’s board, released under the Official Information Act, chief executive Eric Pyle said kauri dieback disease was the biggest threat to access New Zealand had ever faced and all kauri forests should be closed to save kauri from extinction. But he said 350km of new tracks should be developed to provide alternatives.
“If kauri forests are to be saved from extinction, they must be closed to public access, almost immediately,” Pyle said.
He said leading scientists had found track upgrades and limited closures implemented by DOC and Auckland Council wouldn’t be enough to save the species, which was added to the threatened species list in June.
“There is no scientific evidence that hardening [upgrading] will prevent the spread of kauri dieback and the leading scientists are not supportive of this initiative,” Pyle said.
There was also no scientific evidence that wash stations were effective, he said.
Closing the forests was estimated to impact three million people and alternatives need to be offered. Pyle said 350km of new trails through kauri-free areas were needed. About 250km would need to be developed in the Auckland region alone, to make up for the loss of tracks in the Waitakere Ranges.
Pyle said this would cost about $68m. “There is likely to be significant regional economic development and health benefits from this trail-building initiative,” he said. “The aim should be for a better network of tracks and trails than exist at present to give people suitable options that avoid kauri.”
DOC has said it has no plans to build any new tracks. But Pyle said existing trails won’t be able to meet demand.
FMC president Peter Wilson said wholesale closures might be necessary, but he wanted robust scientific evidence before making a call.
“If work on hardening tracks doesn’t prove to be effective, we’ve got a major problem on our hands.
“There needs to be major investment in alternative tracks,” he said. “If we are to close forests, we have to provide recreation alternatives.”