Forest & Bird blames pigs for spreading kauri dieback into another Northland forest and wants the Government to fund and implement the stalled National Pest Management Plan for the disease.

The Department of Conservation has confirmed that kauri dieback disease has been found in Puketi Forest, Bay of Islands, in a remote location following identification by aerial surveillance and sampling of the site.

The infestation comes despite efforts to stop it entering the forest. DoC introduced kauri dieback mitigation measures into Puketi Forest in 2019, including closing eight tracks in the forest, to try to stop the spread of the disease, but it appears this kauri may have been infected for some time.

"We are very disappointed kauri dieback has been found in Puketi and had been working hard to protect the forest from the disease," Dan O'Halloran, DoC ranger services biodiversity, said.

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Puketi follows other Northland forests, including Waipoua, which contains Tane Mahuta, to have kauri dieback.

But Forest & Bird has expressed deep horror and sadness that kauri dieback has been confirmed in Puketi Forest, and are demanding the Government fund and implement the stalled National Pest Management Plan for kauri dieback.

Northland Forest & Bird spokesman Dean Baigent-Mercer said Puketi and Warawara forests have the only areas of unlogged kauri left in the world.

"Unlike the Waitakere Ranges, in Northland the disease is being found far from tracks. Pigs are the main spreaders of the invisible disease in the north as they rip up the ground for food and carry the disease in mud on their feet, fur, tusks and we know the disease can travel through their guts and be deposited somewhere else when they poo," Baigent-Mercer said.

Kauri dieback has been found on trees in Puketi Forest, above, in the Bay of Islands.
Kauri dieback has been found on trees in Puketi Forest, above, in the Bay of Islands.

"Feral pigs are counted within the 100 worst invasive species in the world. Here pigs have no natural predators, except occasional human hunters. In Northland, a sow will have a litter of six or more piglets, several times a year. In comparison a female possum has one baby a year.

"High pig numbers turn natives forests into giant pigsties with muddy wallows, pig race tracks and smashed under-storey. Extremely high levels of pigs in Puketi Forest is well known. Two years ago a TV news expose showed 40 wild pigs passing a single camera.

"People didn't fight to save these ancient kauri from chainsaws for them to be killed by pigs spreading kauri dieback disease. Hunters have been taking pigs or piglets from one spot that happens to be infected with kauri dieback and releasing them in another area and spreading the invisible disease."

He said the Government must fully fund and implement the proposed National Pest Management Plan for kauri dieback that is currently sitting with Cabinet.

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"New Zealand was promised there would be an accelerated response on kauri dieback more than two years ago and yet nothing has changed on the ground. Having a consistent set of policies and rules to enable the control of disease spread across all land uses and landowners is essential,'' Baigent-Mercer said.

"The health of these forests needs to be improved to help fight the disease and reduce its spread. The last ancient kauri forests left need to be prioritised."

O'Halloran said the infected tree is in a remote location and DoC is beginning additional surveillance and sampling work in the immediate vicinity and also on tracks and traplines in the surrounding area.

Kauri forests once covered 250,000ha of the country. Now just 1 per cent remained, and that was under threat from kauri dieback.

How can the public help stop the spread?

• Clean your footwear and gear of all soil before and after visiting a kauri forest.

• We recommend gear is cleaned thoroughly before you leave home.

• If there is a hygiene station on arrival at the forest, use it, and stay on the track.

• If using poles, ensure they are also cleaned and only placed within the actual track, or don't use them in kauri forests.

What is kauri dieback?

Kauri dieback can kill kauri of all ages. It's a disease caused by a microscopic fungus-like organism, called Phytophthora agathidicida. It lives in the soil and infects kauri roots, damaging the tissues that carry nutrients and water within the tree, effectively starving it to death.