Councils urge Govt to stump up for kauri funding

By Kate Shuttleworth

Our most iconic kauri, Tane Mahuta. Photo / APN
Our most iconic kauri, Tane Mahuta. Photo / APN

Northern councils have urged the Government to stump up with funding to stop kauri trees dying from a fungus-like disease they have called the HIV of kauri.

Six members from Auckland Council and Northland Regional Council today told Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy $4.4 million dedicated over five-years to research and fight phytophthora taxon agathis (PTA) since 2009 wasn't enough.

Councillor for Waitakere Sandra Coney said money spent on researching the disease would be wasted if more money wasn't spent.

"We all need to be on the same page for the public to continue to appreciate this is a major problem," said Mr Coney.

She said the council were funding public awareness campaigns but Government needed show protecting threatened kauri is a priority and more could be achieved.

In 2009 the Government pledged $4.4 million over five years to fund a five-year dieback management programme - but were told in January no more money would be given this year.

Mr Guy today turned down a bid to Cabinet for extra funding before 2014, when previous funding would run out.

He said funding would be continued after 2014, but the amount had not been determined.

The research into the disease, including trying to find a treatment, has cost more than the Government allocated, believed to be more than $5 million.

The group believed the ministry were not willing to provide additional funding for the research because of the belief the disease could not be eradicated.

Chairman of the Northland Regional Council Craig Brown said Northland's identity was entwined with the kauri tree.

"There were seven hui held in the north when kauri dieback began and the iwi representatives said - 'you need to get this straight kauri and kiwi are the two most important species to us'."

Auckland council's manager of biosecurity Jack Craw likened the disease to HIV.

"Saying you can't eradicate it is no logic to withdraw funding -it's like in terms of things like HIV, would you stop controling trying to find a solution - this is the HIV of the kauri.

Mr Brown said the council's didn't have the money to fund the research on their own.

Scientists at Auckland University, Landcare Research, Scion and Plant and Food have been working to define the basic biology of the disease.

When research was started the organism was unknown.

They say funding should be directed at Scion - the forest research institute in Rotorua - which is not funded for its work on genetic resistance.

and it is looking at the genetic aspect of the disease.

Green Party biosecurity spokesperson Steffan said the group weren't asking for a huge sum for such an iconic species and believed this should be recognised in Budget 2014.

Ms Coney said kauri were iconic in many ways - "culturally it's offered during a powhiri, it's on football jerseys and the Ranfurly shield is made out of kauri and it's a symbol of northern communities".

Contributions made over 5 years to fight the disease:

* Minister for Primary Industries - $4.4 million and 1 part-time staff member.

* Department of Conservation - $638,076 and 1 part-time staff member.

* Auckland Council -$200,473, and 4 staff.

* Northland Regional Council - $130,363, and 1 staff member.

* Waikato Regional Council - $106,548 and a 1 part-time staff member.

* Bay of Plenty Regional Council - $36,908 and 1 part-time staff member.

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 and through pigs' dung. 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.

- APNZ

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