DIY kauri dieback cleaning station impresses

23 May 2018

Locals concerned not enough was being done to protect kauri on the southern fringes of the Far North’s 15,000-hectare Puketi Forest from dieback disease have set up their own footwear cleaning station on private farmland there.

Group members – many of whom are affiliated with the Puketi Forest Trust – and their ‘can do’ attitude have impressed the Northland Regional Council, which helped facilitate the $2000 cleaning station’s installation recently.

Justin Blaikie, who represents the Northland Regional Council’s Hokianga-Kaikohe constituency, says locals – including Puketi tourism operator Ian Candy –  approached the council after they were unable to secure a station on Crown-owned land.

People at the cleaning station.Pictured at the new Puketi dieback station recently are from left, Cr Justin Blaikie, landowners June and Ian Wilson, locals Wendy and Ross Magon and tourism operator Ian Candy.

In response, local landowners – and Puketi trust members Ian and June Wilson –  had offered the use of their land and with the council’s backing and financial support from the Kauri Dieback Programme, the group had set about installing the station themselves.

The station allows visitors to scrub their footwear then spray them with sanitation chemicals to help prevent the spread of the the incurable – and usually fatal – kauri dieback disease when entering the forest.

Although dieback is present in the neighbouring Omahuta Forest, it has not yet been detected in Puketi, which is home to some magnificent stands of kauri.

Councillor Blaikie says the existing cleaning station at the forest headquarters entrance is now complimented by a much better and more sophisticated cleaning station at the southern entrance than the previous option available.

“From a council perspective, we’re thrilled to be able to support local projects like this where a combined effort has resulted in reducing the likelihood of kauri dieback spreading into Puketi Forest.”

He says between them, the Wilsons, Mr Candy and fellow locals Ross and Wendy Magon had provided the land, installed and fenced the hygiene station and supplied and laid the metal for it.  Locals will also monitor and maintain the station going forward.

Councillor Blaikie says the council is a member of the Kauri Dieback national programme and will continue to push for ‘on the ground’ solutions to the dieback problem.  He’s also keen to hear from other Northland communities which need assistance to put boot cleaning stations in place.

However, even when used correctly, he says hygiene stations are still just one way to deal with threat from dieback and other measures, such as installing boardwalks to protect kauri’s delicate roots, are among a suite of tools that need to be considered.

“Dieback is an issue here, with summer aerial surveillance revealing almost 200 new sites across the lower Northland region where kauri trees may be suffering from the disease.

The Kauri Dieback national programme carried out a detailed aerial sweep of an area stretching from roughly Te Hana to Mangonui over December 2017 and January this year, encountering a high number of sites showing potential symptoms of the disease.  Further aerial surveys were also carried out earlier this month.

Bruce Howse, the regional council’s Group Manager – Environmental Services, says initial indications are that the disease (caused by a microscopic pathogen that infects kauri roots and starves the trees to death) may now be present over most of the region, including ecological jewels like Waipoua Forest.

“Early indications from our aerial surveillance is there are significant numbers of symptomatic kauri across the Whangarei, Kaipara and Far North Districts and these will all require on the ground follow up.”

Mr Howse says the aerial surveying was carried out with a fixed wing aircraft using a system of high resolution camera equipment developed privately by a Northland Regional Council (NRC) staff member.  The innovative new system had allowed the capture of much more detailed data than earlier flyovers.

“Previous surveys for kauri dieback in both the summer of 2016/17 and over the years 2014 to 2016 had discovered roughly 100 suspect sites each time and were thought to be a reasonable indication of the disease’s spread in Northland at that time.”

However, Mr Howse says given the scale of the new discoveries, the council now has a “huge task” ahead to visit the sites from ground and potentially take soil samples to confirm the disease’s presence.

That work could be difficult due both to the length of time it could take to do this and the fact infected trees can appear healthy for a long time, including as they are dying.

“Initial estimates are it could take at least 18 months, which is obviously not practical given the potential for the disease to spread further during this time.”

He says council staff are currently scoping a range of options to try to accelerate a ground truthing programme.

Kauri are found throughout the Upper North Island, but Mr Howse says unlike its neighbouring Auckland Council – which owns large tracts of kauri forest – the NRC does not own any land with the trees.

“Auckland Council recently ordered kauri areas in its Waitakere Ranges Regional Park and parts of the Hunua Ranges Regional Park closed to try to stop the disease’s spread.”

However, in Northland, the vast majority of kauri are scattered over thousands of hectares of land controlled by the Department of Conservation (DOC) or are on privately-owned land.

“We’ve been working closely with DOC and a number of other partners to learn more about, and try to control, kauri dieback for a number of years now and the department has been very committed to this process.”

Mr Howse says central government is currently working to have a National Pest Management Plan for kauri dieback, that among other things, would contain mandatory control measures to stop its spread.

He says in the meantime, the NRC will continue to work closely with DOC and reminds other landowners that legally – under the Northland Regional Pest Management Plan – any suspected kauri dieback must be reported to an appropriate management agency.

“Council has been providing advice and assistance to many private Northland landowners who have reported trees with kauri dieback symptoms in recent years.”

“We’ve been working with them to develop personalised kauri dieback management plans to try to reduce the risk of the disease spreading from private land and district council reserves.”

Mr Howse says a range of information about the disease is available from  www.kauridieback.co.nz

He says government agencies, councils, iwi, scientists and researchers have been working to learn more about kauri dieback – and Phytophthora agathidicida, the pathogen that causes it – since it was discovered in 2009.

Previously known as Phytophthora taxon Agathis, the pathogen was only formally named in 2015 and is a wily and tough foe.  Able to remain dormant in the soil (even without a host) for at least six years, scientists have discovered the pathogen can sense a kauri tree’s roots and swim towards them using tail-like flagella.

Mr Howse says spores are typically introduced into kauri areas through human activity (but also by animals such as pigs) and it only takes a pinhead of soil to move enough spores to spread the disease.

“We are under no illusions as to the scale of the problem we’re now facing and are committed to doing everything we can to secure the survival of kauri for future generations.”