A man who grew up under the canopy of ancient kauri says people need to realise they could unwittingly introduce the fatal tree disease to the Bay of Plenty.

Gavin Smith works as kaitiaki manutataki - iwi engagement ranger for the Department of Conservation in Tauranga. Smith has been leading the fight against kauri dieback in the Kaimai Range, helping protect the region from the arrival of the invasive disease.

"All of New Zealand should be concerned. Kauri forests once covered 1.2 million ha from the far north of Northland to Te Kauri, near Kawhia ... Now, the remnants of the kauri population, the giants of our forests, are under threat of extinction through a disease spread primarily by people," he said.

Kauri dieback has already been blamed for countless deaths of trees in the Waitākere Ranges, Northland and Coromandel.

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In December a National Pest Management Plan was announced and the Government labelled the issue a crisis. In Tauranga, $205,000 was dedicated over the 2018/19 year to help fight the disease.

For Smith, saving the kauri is more than just a day-job. As a younger man, he would lie under the Tuahu kauri in the Kaimais, looking for guidance and strength from the tree. He described those days as "that quiet space where I have contemplated many ideas, challenges, and decisions".

The Tuahu kauri is one of the largest in the Bay of Plenty and more than 600 years old.

The Department of Conservation and the Ministry of Primary Industries are in their third year of their Kauri Dieback Recreation Project, which includes rerouting tracks to avoid kauri and installing footwear-cleaning stations.

Smith said wash stations were one of the best prevention strategies on hand and it was "critical" people realised it.

"Without human compliance, it is almost certain the disease will spread."

Plants, animals and ecosystems that kauri created and supported were also under threat, "as without kauri they cannot live and develop the way they do now".

National Pest Management Plans have previously been used to combat major threats to the primary sector such as the kiwifruit disease Psa, bovine tuberculosis and American foulbrood, a bee disease.

There is no cure for kauri dieback. The disease kills most, if not all, the kauri it infects. It can be spread by just a pinhead of soil, and you can't tell by looking whether a tree is infected or not.

Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage said kauri were a New Zealand icon and urgent and effective action was needed. The plan would give the Government better tools to respond to the crisis.


The origins of kauri
In Maori mythology, the strongest child of Ranginui (the sky father) and Papatūānuku (the Earth mother); Tāne mahuta (the god of the forests and creator of the forest creatures) pushed his parents apart to bring light to the land and allow his children to flourish. Tane's legs were the giant trunks of kauri.