The Auckland Council has confirmed plans to close much of the Waitakere Ranges and high risk tracks in the Hunua Ranges to contain kauri dieback disease.

The measure follows public feedback on an earlier decision by the council's environment and community committee in February unanimously in favour of the closure proposals.

Today, the committee voted to close the parks by May 1 with some exceptions outside the forested area and away from kauri ecosystems. There will be prioritised openings as tracks are upgraded.

Since the disease was discovered about 10 years ago, Auckland Council has invested in various management measures including track improvements, hygiene stations, targeted closures, surveillance and research across the Auckland region.

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Auckland council environment and community committee chairwoman Penny Hulse.
Auckland council environment and community committee chairwoman Penny Hulse.

"Unfortunately, this hasn't prevented the spread and incidence of the disease, particularly within the Waitākere Ranges, and it was clear that more radical action needed to be taken," said environment and community committee chairwoman Penny Hulse.

Kauri dieback is well established in the Waitakere Ranges and Awhitu Peninsula and been identified in parts of Rodney. Areas not affected include the Hunua Ranges, Waiheke Island and the Kaipatiki reserves on the North Shore.

The feedback found that 43 per cent of submitters believed there were too many proposed track closures and the impact on the community would be too severe.

About 24 per cent of submitters said they felt the proposal was about right and 25 per cent thought it did not propose enough closures.

Clark Bush Track, Titirangi, Waitakere Ranges.
Clark Bush Track, Titirangi, Waitakere Ranges.

Waitakere councillor Linda Cooper said the issue was more than a local issue, it was a regional and a national issue.

"It has been a tumultuous path, tricky and difficult.

"It's important people have access, but at the same time it is careful access, it's managed access and we do everything we possible can to control the spread out of the ranges," Cooper said.

Councillor Mike Lee said today's decision had one major flaw and that was it focused on locking people out of the Waitakere Ranges and not solving the problem.

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"Shutting tracks may stop people but it won't solve the disease...we could be creating a lepper problem for kauri and leaving them," Lee said.

Edward Ashby, executive manager of Te Kawerau a Maki, said any decision by council should not undermine a rahui, or form of tapu restricting access, placed on the Waitakere Ranges nearly six months ago.

He said the iwi was committed to working with council on any track openings, but the expectation was for shared decision-making about what tracks are open and when.

"We really do need to have some caution about proceeding too quickly over what is a long-term strategic issue about whether this forest exists in another couple of generations or not. We shouldn't rush a decision like this," Ashby said.

Tree Council spokeswoman Mels Barton said the council was taking a very bold step to protect kauri in this region, but the council had some serious concerns, such as tracks proposed to being open not being compliant and unlikely to be so by May.

View towards Manukau from Mt Donald Mclean Lookout in the Waitakere Ranges Auckland.
View towards Manukau from Mt Donald Mclean Lookout in the Waitakere Ranges Auckland.

She was also concerned that there was no mention in a report to the committee about commercial operators in the Waitakere Ranges being allowed to continue their businesses while ordinary people were closed out.

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The council must present a clear and unequivocal message to the public that is simple, easy to understand, logical and easy to interpret to achieve compliance with closure, Barton said.

"The current proposal to open tracks does not in any way present a clear message. It is complex and confusing. You are making a rod for your back," Barton said.

Paul Davies, a tramper who lives in the Orakei ward, said the closure was aimed at stopping the spread of kauri dieback, which could be spread by people, pigs, other animals, water, erosion and wind.

Feedback showed widespread scepticism about the effectiveness of closures because of the limited understanding about the different ways the disease is spread, he said.

"There is no data about how much of the disease is spread by the human vector... in the absence of data about the human impact the committee should not close any tracks just yet."