Locals concerned that not enough was being done to protect kauri on the southern fringes of the 15,000ha Puketī Forest from dieback disease have set up their own footwear cleaning station on private farm land.
The group, many affiliated with the Puketī Forest Trust have impressed the Northland Regional Council, which helped facilitate the $2000 cleaning station's installation.
Cr Justin Blaikie (Hokianga-Kaikohe) said locals, including Puketī tourism operator Ian Candy, approached the council when they were unable to secure a station on Crown-owned land. Local land owners and Puketī Trust members Ian and June Wilson offered a site, and with the council's backing, and financial support from the Kauri Dieback Programme, the group had installed the station themselves.
It allows visitors to scrub their footwear to help prevent the spread of the the incurable, and usually fatal, kauri dieback disease before entering the forest.
Dieback is present in the neighbouring Omahuta Forest but has not yet been detected in Puketī, home to stands of kauri.
Cr Blaikie said the existing cleaning station at the forest headquarters entrance was now complemented by a much better and more sophisticated station at the southern entrance.
"From a council perspective, we're thrilled to be able to support local projects like this where a combined effort has resulted in reducing the likelihood of kauri dieback spreading into Puketi Forest," he said.
The Wilsons, Mr Candy and fellow locals Ross and Wendy Magon had provided the land, installed and fenced the hygiene station and supplied and laid the metal. Locals would also monitor and maintain the station.
Cr Blaikie says the council, which was a member of the Kauri Dieback national programme, would continue to push for 'on the ground' solutions to the problem. He was also keen to hear from other Northland communities that needed assistance to install boot-cleaning stations.
Even when used correctly, hygiene stations were still just one way of addressing the threat from dieback, and other measures, such as installing boardwalks, also had to be considered.
"Dieback is an issue here, summer aerial surveillance revealing almost 200 new sites across the lower Northland region where kauri trees may be suffering from the disease," he said.
Bruce Howse, the regional council's group manager — environmental services, said initial indications were that the disease may now be present over most of the region, including "ecological jewels" like Waipoua Forest.
"Early indications from our aerial surveillance is there are significant numbers of symptomatic kauri across the Whangārei, Kaipara and Far North districts, which will all require on the ground follow-up," he said.
"Previous surveys discovered roughly 100 suspect sites each time, and were thought to be a reasonable indication of the disease's spread in Northland at that time."
The council now had a huge task ahead, visiting the sites on the ground and potentially taking soil samples to confirm the disease's presence.
"Initial estimates are it could take at least 18 months, which is obviously not practical given the potential for the disease to spread further during this time," Mr Howse said.
In Northland, the vast majority of kauri were scattered over thousands of hectares controlled byDOC or on privately-owned land.
The NRC would continue to work closely with DOC, and reminded other land owners of their legal obligation under the Northland Regional Pest Management Plan to report any suspected kauri dieback to an appropriate management agency.
The council had been providing advice and assistance to many private Northland land owners who had reported trees with kauri dieback symptoms in recent years, to develop personalised management plans to reduce the risk of the disease spreading.
A range of information about the disease was available at www.kauridieback.co.nz. Spores were typically introduced through human activity and animals , and it only took a pinhead of soil to move enough spores to spread the disease.
"We are under no illusions as to the scale of the problem we're now facing."