27 Nov 2017

Council to vote on park closure in kauri dieback fight

10:15 am on 27 November 2017

Auckland Council will vote next week on whether to close the Waitakere Ranges to save threatened kauri trees.

Dying kauri trees

Dying kauri trees. Photo: RNZ / Alison Ballance

Banning people is one of the options mooted to fight kauri dieback, the rapidly spreading fatal disease that could wipe out the Ranges' kauri population.

Council officials released a report in August that said councillors should seriously consider closing the 16,000ha of the Waitakere Ranges regional park.

At the time, local politicians were non-committal - highlighting instead the many other methods being used to combat kauri dieback.

But the Environment Committee chair, Penny Hulse, said banning people would now be one of a series of options the committee will vote on next week.

"Closure of the Waitakere Ranges is a huge undertaking and part of our discussion needs to be do we pour all our money into barriers and guards and fences or do we spend that money on treatment of the trees, rebuilding tracks and directing people away from sensitive areas," she said.

The council's August report showed the rate of the incurable disease in the park had doubled in the past five years.

It was most prevalent in populated areas or along well used tracks.

The council had already closed some tracks where the disease is prevalent and it was working to improve the shoe cleaning stations at other major tracks.

The council would consider maintaining that status quo and some options in between - like the closure of sensitive areas.

Ms Hulse said she was not convinced full closure was the answer was full closure but she would keep an open mind during the debate.

"The advice I've had from scientists is that simply closing the ranges might not be the best solution. That's why next week we need to look at, what does that full spectrum look like?"

There were are a million visitors to the Waitakere Ranges forest each year - and closing it would have a big social and economic impact, she said.

The tangata whenua, Te Kawerau ā Maki, said earlier this month it would put a rāhui on the area to try keep people out - no matter what the council decided.

Its executive manager, Edward Ashby, said the evidence was clear - humans were causing the problem and keeping them away was the only answer.

"Everything but full closure has been done over the last ten years. Where it's gotten us is more surveys, more reports and more dead trees," he said.

Under the iwi's rāhui, people would still be able to drive on the road and go to beaches but not into the forest itself.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs