Australian academic Germaine Greer has weighed into the debate about a kauri-killing disease in New Zealand, arguing that the Hunua Ranges should be closed to the public to prevent its spread.
The Hunuas, 50km southeast of Auckland city, are believed to contain the only ancient kauri forest yet to be infected with the obscure pathogen known as kauri dieback.
The Auckland Council stepped up its awareness campaign in the ranges on Friday, putting up large signs telling trampers how to prevent the spread of the disease from infected sites. On-site advocacy managers were reminding trampers that dieback could be carried through soil or water which had been picked up on footwear, bags or equipment.
Professor Greer, who is speaking at the New Zealand Reader's and Writer's Festival in March, argued for the last remaining sanctuary for kauri to be closed in an article in this week's New Zealand Listener.
Best known for her feminist literature, the outspoken author has also written environmental commentary on issues in her homeland.
Professor Greer wrote that deforestation had upset the ecosystems which kauri depended on by destroying the beneficial fungi that helped kauri forests thrive.
She emphasised the beauty and historical importance of kauri trees: "A full-grown kauri is an unforgettable sight, a natural Tower of Pisa. I can still remember my first glimpse of Tane Mahuta, which seemed too big to be a tree, its huge trunk closing off the approach path like a wall."
Her article concluded: "The only solution to kauri dieback is restoration of the forest with all its species.
"For that to happen, unpopular decisions need to be made; the Hunua Ranges, which are apparently untouched by PTA, should probably be closed to the public.
"Relying on people to clean their boots and gear before and after visiting will not be enough."
The Department of Conservation raised the idea of a restricted access to a section of the Hunuas in December, to shield the kauri haven at Mataitai Reserve. The department was seeking public input on the future of the 680 hectare reserve, which contained kauri trees more than 800 years old.
DoC said yesterday that the proposed closure had the backing of the reserve's main users, such as iwi, residents and the Manukau Tramping Club.
Council biodiversity official Nick Waipara said any drastic action in the remaining sections of the Hunuas was unlikely until a comprehensive ground survey was completed.
Mr Waipara: "The trouble is that kauri dieback is still very much an unknown organism - it's very cryptic. We don't know where it's from, how it got to New Zealand, when it arrived and how to control it."
Phytophthora taxon Agathis (PTA)
* A microscopic fungus-like pathogen that is spread through the movement of contaminated soil and water.
* Also known as kauri dieback or kauri collar rot, it causes yellowing of kauri foliage, and gradually kills the trees off.
* First found in Piha in 2006, and since found at Karekare, Huia, Anawhata as well as Northland and Great Barrier Island.
* Scientists believe the pathogen is a unique strand and are yet to discover how to control it.
* Council officials urge trampers and mountain bikers to clean their shoes before heading into the Hunua Ranges, to keep to the tracks, and to use the cleaning stations at the park.