Authorities battling the spread of kauri dieback disease are installing 20 new special cleaning stations - but Forest and Bird questions whether they'll do much to check the tree-killing scourge.
The soil-borne disease has become prominent over the past decade, spreading throughout the Auckland region, the Coromandel, and to Waipoua Forest in Northland, the home of our most iconic kauri - Tane Mahuta.
Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage today announced the 20 stations will be set up along tracks in the Kauri Coast and Bay of Islands districts, Whangarei, Auckland, Whitianga, Hauraki, Tauranga and Waikato.
"Human traffic is the main way kauri dieback is spread, so cleaning footwear and gear and staying on the track is the best way to contain the disease and save these forest giants," Sage said.
"Research shows people are far more likely to use cleaning stations if they see others do it, and if they can see the stations are good quality and well signposted."
DOC has trialled various cleaning methods and stations over recent years.
Two years ago, it piloted world-first prototype cleaning stations at four sites in Northland and the Coromandel, and extensive testing, monitoring and evaluation led to further improvements.
Out of that came a large walk-through, partly automated cleaning station at the Waipoua Forest, visited by nearly 150,000 people each year.
"Stations are designed to be easy to install and maintain and hard to ignore," Sage said.
The cleaning stations featured a brush fixed to the base, so people could clean their shoes while holding onto a rail, rather than balancing on one foot holding a scrubbing brush.
They also featured a pedal pump to spray disinfectant on to the bottom of footwear.
Information from ongoing monitoring and feedback would inform any further refinements, ahead of future roll-outs later this year.
Forest and Bird's kauri dieback spokesperson Dr Rebecca Stirnemann said the stations would only be effective if every single speck of soil was also removed from footwear, walking poles, clothing and tyres.
"A casual brush and a spray won't be enough as the sterigene spray has not been scientifically proven to kill all the kauri dieback spores."
Stirnemann said the installation of new cleaning stations also needed to coincide with upgrades to the walking tracks.
"If these new cleaning stations are being installed alongside improved walkways that keep muddy boots away from kauri roots, then that is good news," she said.
"If not, then they will do nothing to stop the spread within the forest."
The group believed there needed to be an urgent focus on finding a cleaning solution that completely killed the spores - and of course, a cure for the disease itself.
Forest and Bird wanted to see all public DOC tracks going through kauri forests, including Te Araroa, closed immediately until track upgrades and pig control lowered the risk of potential spread to an absolute minimum.
"With winter nearly upon us and even more muddy boots tramping through our precious kauri forests it is now time to focus on closing tracks with kauri, protecting healthy trees and making the necessary upgrades to keep our precious kauri forests safe," Stirnemann said.
Forest and Bird was among groups backing an iwi-declared rahui across Auckland's Waitakere Ranges Regional Park - where dieback infestation rates have jumped from seven per cent to 19 per cent of kauri - but councillors opted against such a ban.
There, 83 per cent of park visitors had recently been recorded walking past cleaning stations without scrubbing their shoes with trigene, going off-track or disregarding closed tracks - despite 70 per cent of Aucklanders being aware of the disease.