Kauri dieback solution upsets residents

Geoff Reid, from Friends of Okura Bush, says putting plastic in the forest is irrational.
PETER MEECHAM/FAIRFAX NZ

Geoff Reid, from Friends of Okura Bush, says putting plastic in the forest is irrational.

An Auckland advocacy group is shocked by plans to lay plastic on a popular walkway.

Friends of Okura Bush has been campaigning for four years for a boardwalk track but the Conservation Department (DOC) plans to install geoweb; a strong plastic filled with bark and covered with gravel.

Co-ordinator Geoff Reid was shocked to hear the plans and says there hasn't been community consultation about them.

Geoweb is a strong plastic, filled with bark and topped with gravel.
SUPPLIED

Geoweb is a strong plastic, filled with bark and topped with gravel.

"A boardwalk is best practice and that's what we want; the best possible outcome," Reid says.

"A community that is engaged on the ground level have knowledge. If you exclude the community you've already got a worse outcome."

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DOC has been given $21.6 million to upgrade and maintain tracks to prevent kauri dieback and increase awareness of the disease caused by spores that infect soil.

The department surveyed more than 700 kilometres of track to identify areas in need of upgrade.

The popular 8km long Okura Bush Walkway was identified and DOC will install 225m of boardwalk and 374m of geoweb on a stretch most at risk of users spreading the disease.

Reid says it's a short-term fix to a long-term problem and future upgrades could disturb roots.

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"In 20 to 30 years we're going to have to pull this stuff out because no one wants plastic in the forest."

He says covering the plastic with bark and gravel masks the problem.

"You don't just invite people into your house with muddy feet and put down paper towels because eventually you're going to have to pull up the paper towels and you're still going to have a muddy carpet."

DOC Auckland operations manager Keith Gell says boardwalk and geoweb are both effective in stopping kauri dieback spread because they keep tracks dry and mud free and protect roots.

A trial installed in the Bay of Islands seven years ago has been successful, he says.

Gell says DOC has been talking with Friends of Okura Bush and iwi about the upgrade for just over a year. It's gone out for tender and DOC is evaluating the tenders received.

More than 60,000 people walk the track annually and Okura community groups are concerned with the effect of increasing traffic on the forest.

"It's not just us, friends of Okura any more. Everyone's concerned," Reid says.

"The trees are our taonga, they're what make us special,"

Conservation Minister Maggie Barry says the upgrade scheduled for winter is an effective and practical option to reduce the spread of dieback.

Friends of Okura Bush wants DOC to put plans for the track on hold until they feel the community has been consulted.

"You can't use our forest as an experiment, it's too precious," Reid says.

 - Stuff

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