A fungus-like pathogen called Phytophthora agathidicida is a deadly disease with no cure causing kauri dieback, killing our kauri at an alarming rate, with one in five kauri in the Waitakere Ranges fatally infected.

While the disease is likely spread many ways, it has now been proven conclusively that it is us – humans – that are accelerating kauri dieback.

That begs the question – if the problem is us, what is being done to halt the spread?

Mana whenua of the Waitakere Ranges, Te Kawerau a Maki, were alarmed and concerned at both the rate of spread of P. agathidicida and the apparent inaction of any government agency to address the spread.


Drawing from their matauranga - culture, values, world view and centuries of knowledge and practice gained through an intimate lived relationship with the Te Wao Nui a Tane (Waitakere Ranges), in early December, Te Kawerau a Maki placed a rahui (temporary comprehensive restriction) on the Waitakere Ranges.

Rahui have been effective tools of conservation and management used successfully by Maori for centuries, and are one example of tikanga.

Tikanga are simultaneously systems of science, social management and law, of which the legal principles are based around the centrality of kinship.

The purpose of tikanga is to find balance with and to sustain the natural world of which we are all part.

Everything in the natural world derives from the primal parents Rangi and Papa.

Kaitiakitanga is the obligation to act and care for one's own, within the kinship based system of law that bestows a legal, collective responsibility to take care of your relations – in this instance kauri.

Therefore, Te Kawerau a Maki have taken action and placed the rahui based upon that responsibility, but did not block access to the park; rather they asked the public to respect the rahui to stop the spread of the fatal disease.

Power to enforce the obligation lies in agencies such as the Auckland Council, whom once Te Kawerau a Maki laid down a rahui, looked to for support, specifically by means of a Controlled Area Notice.


While Auckland Council lent their support to the rahui in principle, they would not enforce the rahui, noting that as a council they could not legally close the park.

Instead they closed high to medium-risk walking tracks, placed partial restrictions, and fought to restrict spread of the disease by improving track surfaces, installing hygiene stations and appointing ambassadors.

Sadly, both the placement of the rahui and those initial Auckland Council measures did not deter people from visiting the affected areas.

Some park users knew about the rahui but referred to the council being the ultimate decision-maker remarking "We are Europeans, so we will listen and respect the final word of those who have the power to shut or leave the tracks open".

Accordingly, the council's environmental committee recently voted to look to close all forested areas of the Waitakere Ranges, aligning the Auckland Council-closed areas with a rahui established by Te Kawerau a Maki.

But perhaps it is the very structures and processes, a normative, rule-based, centralised system which gives the Auckland Council mandate to make decisions, that simultaneously frustrates their efforts to act nimbly.

Restricted to making decisions by committee at scheduled meeting times and legal issues, to name two.

Furthermore, there are resourcing implications of any decision that have to be considered.

While we don't suggest that there is anything sinister or wrong with those processes however, while they maintain stasis and inactivity, sadly, it is the kauri that is suffering, and that continues to suffer.

Thousands of people used walking tracks in the Waitakere Ranges over the summer.

That evidence suggests our reliance on rules or authorities to take action appears to have suppressed the ability or willingness of the individual to make considered decisions.

One of the underlying rationales driving those who continued to walk in the Waitakere Ranges was that they were exercising their "right" to walk in the bush that they love - despite all the evidence clearly showing that humans are accelerating the spread of kauri dieback; despite the rahui being supported by some community groups, and the rationale for it by many scientists.

Perhaps it is the system of "rights" that is also in part at fault, with environmental obligations developed through the lens of property rights.

Heoi ano, what we do know is that people expressing their love for the bush by exercising their "right" to walk in it is killing our kauri.

We simply ask for Aucklanders and other park visitors to see beyond yourselves, to see yourself as part of the ecosystem, to exercise your "right" to not go into the Waitakere Ranges, and to do your part to preserve an ancient, iconic member of our community - the kauri.

Dan Hikuroa (Ngati Maniapoto, Waikato-Tainui), is a principal investigator at Te Punaha Matatini and Nga Pae o te Maramatanga, both based at the University of Auckland. Dr Cate Macinnis-Ng and Kate Hannah are principal investigators at Te Punaha Matatini.