Kauri dieback disease has pushed our forests to a tipping point and what we do now will determine their fate. To lose kauri means losing the whole forest ecosystem because it is a keystone species upon which 17 other species depend.
The fact that we are spreading the disease around all our forests on our boots, bikes and equipment makes this a national biosecurity issue, not a local one, although the response, of course, has to be local.
Small reserves of kauri like those north of Auckland are also at risk and the best advice is to stay away from kauri altogether and keep them safe. The science is irrefutable. Anyone who says that more research needs to be done before we can act has simply not done their homework.
Monitoring data from Waitakere shows 70 per cent of infected trees are within 50-metres of a track, clearly showing humans are the main vector. Pigs are also a vector, but they can be controlled to a point at which 95 per cent of their impact is removed. As Dr Nick Waipara said, ‘Pigs can’t fly’ so it is not pigs spreading this disease around the country, it is us.
The map showing infected trees hits you in the face that the infection is along the track network, and in the most popular sites. Once you have seen this you can no longer deny that it is people spreading this disease – and it is people who can do something about it. The local iwi Te Kawerau a Maki have asked people to stay out of the Waitakere Ranges forest by placing down a rāhui, or customary closure.
This is a voluntary, temporary request to let the forest heal until the necessary upgrades of track surfaces and cleaning stations can be done. It is not a ban, it is a request for respect. It is what is necessary and we have been overwhelmed by the support and positive response. Walkers, runners and tourist operators are telling us they are going elsewhere. This is very encouraging.
What we need to ensure, however, is that they don’t just go to other kauri forests around Auckland and start spreading the disease there instead. The rahui in our minds should apply to everywhere there are kauri, not just in Waitakere. We are simply not safe to be among them.
Of course, because it is voluntary, there will always be people who will ignore it, but any reduction in the number of people moving this disease around will help. The power of the rahui is that it is prompting people to ask why this is necessary and this is the opportunity to educate because the facts are what has been missing from this debate.
The answer is in our own hands if we want to save our forests. Respect the rahui, stay out of kauri forests, educate everyone and tell politicians to spend our money on upgrading infrastructure so that we can all get back to enjoying what we love without killing it.