Jamie Morton

Jamie Morton is science reporter at the NZ Herald.

Govt urged to keep up kauri cash

Councils say years of research could be wasted if funding for the work dries up.

Phil Twyford is worried that kauri may disappear. Photo / Richard Robinson
Phil Twyford is worried that kauri may disappear. Photo / Richard Robinson

Four councils have united to urge the Government to reconsider cutting funding for efforts to combat a disease killing kauri, with one Auckland councillor worried that years of research could be wasted.

This week, Auckland Council resolved to seek a meeting with new Primary Industries and Biosecurity Minister Nathan Guy over the disease, which has so far wiped out 11 per cent of kauri in the Waitakere Ranges and killed trees elsewhere in the Auckland and Northland regions.

Among the thousands of trees infected so far, two kauri that feature strongly in some of Colin McCahon's artworks had to be felled, and another 23 at the late artist's Titirangi property have tested positive.

A confidential memo to Mr Guy's predecessor, David Carter, stated that kauri was a taonga and losing the species would be devastating.

But the report said there was little hope of eradicating the fungus-like disease and "our focus must be on slowing its spread and protecting our remaining disease-free forests".

In 2009, the Government pledged $4.7 million to the five-year Kauri Dieback Management Programme, but confirmed in January that it would not accept a bid for more money.

Yesterday, however, the Ministry for Primary Industries told the Herald a decision was yet to be made on what money it would provide after the programme ends next year.

It was expected that total external research costs for the next five-year period would top $9 million.

A letter signed by Auckland Council, Northland Regional Council, Waikato Regional Council and Bay of Plenty Regional Council has also been sent to Mr Guy requesting the ministry invest a minimum $4 million for the first two years.

"I think it's critical," said Sandra Coney, chairwoman of Auckland Council's parks, recreation and heritage forum.

"From talking to the scientists involved, we are about halfway through a research programme to come up with the answers we need about kauri dieback."

While a cutback in ministry cash would mean an estimated $60,000 a year increase in disease-monitoring costs for the councils, other councils would be likely harder hit.

"For the councils to stump up with what's withdrawn is really going to be very difficult, if not impossible, and in kind of a way it's wasting where we've got to with the research if we don't continue the programme."

Labour MP and West Auckland resident Phil Twyford said it would be a dereliction of duty for the Government to leave councils to fund future research.

"If the Government does not fund the $9 million of research proposed, then the kauri dieback effort might as well pack up and go home," he said.

"We can say goodbye to the kauri as a presence in the New Zealand bush."

Veronica Herrera, the ministry's investigation and diagnostic centre and response director, said the ministry remained committed to the programme past 2014.

Kauri dieback

What causes it?
The fungus-like disease Phytophthora taxon Agathis (PTA), formally identified in 2008, contains microscopic spores in the soil that infect kauri roots and damage the tissues that carry nutrients in the tree. It can kill trees of all ages, there is no known treatment, and it can be carried on the shoes and gear of trampers. Infected trees' symptoms include yellowing and loss of foliage, canopy thinning, dead branches and lesions that bleed resin at the base of the trunk.

Where is it?
In the Waitakere Ranges Regional Park, on private land throughout the Auckland region, in the forest plantations of Omahuta, Glenbervie and Russell in Northland, Department of Conservation reserves at Okura, Albany, Pakiri, Great Barrier, Trounson Kauri Park and Waipoua Forest in Northland, home of our most iconic kauri, Tane Mahuta. It has not been found in many areas of Northland forest, the Hunua Ranges, Hauraki Gulf islands.

Is the message getting through?
According a recent survey, yes - 90 per cent of respondents to an Auckland survey were aware of kauri dieback and authorities had seen a much higher level of compliance, with more trampers spraying and scrubbing their gear and shoes.

- NZ Herald

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