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Major track closures for Waitakere Ranges

The rate of infected kauri in the Waitakere Ranges has more than doubled in the past five years, from eight per cent, to 19 per cent. Photo: George Driver

The Waitakere Ranges will remain open, but multiple tracks will be closed after Auckland Council voted on a range of options to prevent the spread of kauri dieback in the ranges today.

A number of environmental groups had been lobbying for a total closure of the park and iwi Te Kawerau o Maki put a rahui (a form of tapu restricting access) on the ranges on December 2.

At the meeting, Council staff recommended closing 13 tracks but Mayor Phil Goff recommended closing all tracks deemed to be a medium to high risk of spreading dieback, gaining the support of the majority of the committee. More tracks would also be upgraded and more advanced cleaning stations put in place.

Goff said a total closure would result in a worse outcome as people would continue to use the ranges in an unregulated way.

“There is no way we can simply close the park and ensure no one goes into it,” Goff said. “The biggest difference we can make is to close high and medium risk tracks and put money towards enhancing tracks to prevents the spread of the disease.”

It was not clear how many tracks would be affected. The closed tracks could be reopened after prevention work was done and the tracks were deemed low risk.

Goff also proposed a levy to increase kauri dieback funding 20 fold. The proposal will be part of consultation on the Council’s long term plan in February next year.

The levy would be charged on top of rates and set at either $21 or $60 a year, depending on public support, raising $123 million or $356 million for environmental protection over 10 years.

At the meeting, council biosecurity advisor Dr Nick Waipara said the loss of kauri could have a major impact on the broader health of the forest, as they are a cornerstone of the entire ecosystem. He said the forest was at a tipping point.

“The pathogen is weakening the entire forest to other stressors, such as drought and climate change,” Dr Waipara said.

Recent research had found that other tree species were also being infected by dieback disease in heavily infected areas.

Te Kawerau o Maki and council’s former biosecurity advisor Jack Craw also called for a total closure of the park.

“The bush knows how to look after itself,” the iwi’s executive chairman Te Warena Taua said. “We are told by scientists its human traffic causing this problem. Then leave the bush alone and stop all human traffic.”

Craw said there could be no kauri left in the ranges in 40 years time if the current infection rate continued.

“Protections have failed completely due to people not complying with signage and rules,” Craw said.

He said closing tracks has been shown to be ineffective. He recommended a total closure, which could be enforced through the Biosecurity Act, making it offence to transport soil in the forest, and could be monitored remotely.

“It would be expensive, but achievable.”

The Waitakere Experience group, representing 113 businesses in the ranges, said a closure would have a significant impact on businesses in the area.