Saving Kauri Auckland's priority

JESS ETHERIDGE AND CIARA PRATT
Last updated 05:00 18/07/2014
Kauri
Lawrence Smith
PRECIOUS TREES: Kauri dieback disease has spread across 3500ha of the Waitakere Ranges already.

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Defending healthy kauri and seeing dieback disease become an official pest have topped the city's environmental to-do list.

Under a new draft strategy, off-shore islands in the Hauraki Gulf and the Hunua Ranges will become high priority protection areas.

More details about how kauri dieback disease spreads will be offered to the public and increased support for science and research is planned.

The Draft Auckland Kauri Dieback Management Strategy seeks to regulate the spread of the disease across public and private land.

Mapping across Auckland will show how far dieback disease has travelled and which areas need the most immediate help from council.

But kauri dieback disease is already spreading across Auckland forests.

At least 3500 hectares of kauri in the Waitakere Ranges are infected making it the most contaminated area in the country.

The impact of kauri dieback disease on New Zealand's tourism industry has been estimated up to $48 million a year as of 2013, Auckland Council says.

Kauri also have the potential to store up to 1000 tonnes of carbon per hectare.

Loss of any kauri forest "could result in carbon release valued in 2013 at up to $162.5m", according to a council report.

Waitakere Ranges Protection Society president John Edgar says "it's about time" that kauri dieback is recognised as an official pest.

"I hope it doesn't take too long and it's a good step.

"More and more trees are being affected. More funding to keep people better educated will be needed."

In May, the Government pledged $26.5m over the next four years to fight the disease.

Dieback has also spread to Great Barrier Island, several bush areas north of Auckland and Awhitu.

Albert-Eden-Roskill councillor Christine Fletcher says protecting Auckland's remaining kauri is critical.

"This is one area we can't cut funds from," she says.

"This is a health issue, for me. The health of our forests.

"The reality is the kauri we have are dying. It's visible and I think we have . . . a real responsibility to do the science and research," Fletcher says.

Fletcher is on the Environment, Climate Change and Natural Heritage Committee, which is spearheading the strategy.

A cost-benefit analysis of the impact of dieback is needed before the Government will officially recognise the disease as a pest.

But the council is determined to have it recognised under the Biosecurity Act.

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Fletcher says the council will work with its biosecurity department, led by former Department of Conservation area manager Brett Butland, to ensure everything is done to save the city's kauri.

The council has already closed 13 protection zones in the Waitakere Ranges to the public as well as upgraded tracks to prevent the spread of the disease.

A full range of cost options for the management of dieback across Auckland is being investigated.

The plan will be reviewed each year.

The draft has been sent to the Regional Strategy and Policy Committee to be signed off.

- Western Leader

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