The Government is looking at tougher measures to save kauri trees in the Waitakeres which could drastically limit access to the forest.
Biosecurity Minister Damien O'Connor and Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage have moved to strengthen the Kauri Dieback Programme by developing a National Pest Management Plan (NPMP).
It is the strongest regulation available and has been used to combat major threats such as kiwifruit disease Psa and bovine tuberculosis.
O'Connor will also consider instructing the Ministry of Primary Industries to implement a Controlled Area Notice (CAN) under the Biosecurity Act, which could close entire areas to visitors.
Such a move would go beyond the Auckland Council's decision earlier this month when it voted against a full closure of the Waitākere Ranges to the public, instead favouring a partial closure including high-to-medium risk tracks.
Environmental groups and local iwi Te Kawerau ā Maki have called for a full closure because kauri dieback - caused by a fungus-like pathogen that infects the roots of kauri, and spread mainly by people's footwear - is threatening to make the species extinct.
Asked if a CAN was under consideration for the Waitakere Ranges, a spokesperson for O'Connor said it was.
In a statement yesterday, O'Connor said that voluntary compliance - which the council had relied on in the Waitakere Ranges - had failed.
"To date, we have relied on people voluntarily complying with the rules when visiting kauri areas – that they must clean their footwear, stay on marked tracks, and keep their dogs on leashes.
"That approach has not worked, so it is time that we come up with tougher solutions."
An NPMP would ensure mandatory hygiene practices, consistent regulations that apply nationally, stronger governance and access to funding, he said.
"An NPMP shows how serious we are about protecting kauri. It is by far the strongest piece of regulation available."
Eugenie Sage said kauri are a New Zealand icon and urgent and effective action is needed.
"Kauri dieback is like a biological bulldozer and the programme needs broader powers and stronger leadership in order to prevent it driving these forest giants into extinction. We are not prepared to stand by and let it happen."
Meanwhile the 80km Hillary race through the ranges, scheduled for February, has been cancelled until recommended track and foot-wash upgrades are installed.
The Kauri Dieback Programme was launched in 2009 to manage and respond to the spread of kauri dieback, and is a partnership between regional councils, MPI, DOC and iwi.
Auckland councillor Penny Hulse, chair of the Environment and Community Committee, said the council welcomed central government providing more support for kauri dieback management.
The proposed approach would apply to all kaurilands across New Zealand, not just the Waitakere Ranges, she said.
"Our agencies all work together as part of a joint agency programme and we see this development from central government not as over-riding the decisions we have already made, but increasing our ability to protect our kauri in a manner that is consistent with other kauri forests. We are committed to collaborating on this proposal."
Simply closing the Waitakere Ranges when kaurilands across the country remained open would not halt the demise of this species, she said.
"A Controlled Area Notice does not close areas. It controls movement of the disease through mandatory controls which could, for example, include the compulsory use of hygiene stations.
"This means that if someone gets caught not cleaning their boots or transferring soil from our kauri forests, penalties could apply."