Calls to prosecute trampers who ignore Waitākere Ranges rāhui

11:17 am on 6 November 2018

The Ministry for Primary Industries has not received any notice from Auckland Council to prosecute people who are ignoring track closures in the Waitākere Ranges.

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All forested areas of the Waitākere Ranges have been shut to the public since May with only selected tracks remaining open. Photo: RNZ / Eva Corlett

Some conservation groups say it's time for MPI to step in and prosecute anyone breaking the rules around stopping the spread of kauri dieback.

A new audit compiled by the Waitākere Rāhui team has revealed serious shortcomings in the Auckland Council's attempts to fight the disease.

The council threw its support behind a rāhui, or closure, of the forest in May and a formal process called a Controlled Area Notice is in place to allow for strict biosecurity measures.

But the audit found 14 tracks that were open but should be closed and also evidence of people skirting around barriers on closed tracks.

It has recommended removing out-of-date signage and using covert security cameras at places where informal tracks are present.

Waitākere Rangers Protection Society president John Edgar said MPI should prosecute those who were not abiding the Controlled Area Notice (CAN).

"It's clear to us the conservationist who are on the ground in the ranges that this is an extremely serious matter and MPI need to step up and do something very quickly."

Mr Edgar was not against the use of surveillance cameras to catch those breaking the rules.

"What we got it's a closure with a CAN under the Biosecurity Act - then people have to honour that and respect it.

"If they're going to break the rules and not respect the rāhui then I guess they're going to get caught."

With summer around the corner, Mr Edgar said better signage was needed - especially for tourists who did not know anything about kauri dieback.

"Tourists arrive in Auckland - they might only be here two or three days, how are they going to know the ranges are closed?"

Any decision to proceed with a prosecution under the Biosecurity Act sits with MPI, based on notifications from the council.

The manager of recovery and pest management for Biosecurity New Zealand John Sanson said so far no notifications have been received.

Lynne Poole is part of the West Auckland District Tramping Club - she said she had not set foot in the ranges since the rāhui was put in place and missed being able to go into the bush.

Ms Poole believed the council had done all it could to stop people.

"The car parks for those places [tracks] are always empty, Scenic Drive is empty, the traffic is less - I think most people are abiding by it."

Ms Poole said she dreaded the idea of more track closures, although she understood the need to use gravel on tracks to stop soil contamination.

"Obviously I want to see them wild but if I can't have that then they can have the gravel chips like that ... some [tracks] have already been done and that's fine."

The maximum fine under the Biosecurity Act is $50,000 and/or up to three months imprisonment for an individual - or a fine of $100,000 for a corporation.

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