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The extinction of Kauri

Written By: - Date published: 9:00 am, March 29th, 2014 - 34 comments
Categories: Environment, farming, national - Tags:

Kauri Tane Mahuta-1

It has been announced that the Kauri killer disease Kauri Dieback, or Phytophthora Taxon Agathis to use its scientific name, has now been spread to the Coromandel.  The prospects of Kauri becoming extinct have become greater.

It has infected many Kauri out west and throughout much of Northland.  Not a great deal is known about the disease but its effects are clear. It is believed to be spread by people’s shoes or by feral pigs or other animals.  It causes yellowing leaves, thinning canopy, dead branches, and lesions that bleed resin and eventually cause the death of an infected tree.

No Kauri has been found which is immune to the disease.  It appears that once infected a tree faces a gradual but inevitable death caused by the disease’s effects.

The implications are horrendous, involving the possible extinction of Kauri and the weakening of the forest as a whole as an integral part of the forest disappears.  Kauri provide canopy protection and also strengthen the forest against the effects of wind.  Kauri has been described as providing the backbone to the Waitakere forest.

Five years ago Central and Local Government agreed on joint action to address the disease which included scientific research funded by the different agencies.  As part of this action Auckland Council and Department of Conservation officers and scientists have been researching the disease and what can be done to save Kauri.  They have done sterling work and their research and efforts to deal with the disease already show results.

Experiments have been in two areas, the use of phosphoric acid injected into trees to arrest the effects of the disease and the assessment of  holistic and alternative methods to improve kauri health and/or to control PTA as well as using natural enemies of phytophthoras that lessen its effects. 

Field trials are producing positive results.  But this work has to continue to ascertain its effectiveness and cutting funding would pretty well waste all the results from the research.

MAF funding of $4.5 million used primarily for the research was for a five year period from 2009 to 2014.  Despite a request for continued funding the Government decided that no further bid would be considered and the research would finish.  The 2013 budget confirmed the cut to the research funding.  It was willing to spend $3 million saving Wanganui Collegiate but nothing on saving Kauri.

The final funding of $335k is due to be spent in the 2013/14 year and there is no further money.  All of this work faces the chop.

This is very disappointing.  When the likes of Tane Mahuta are facing extinction and with there being some success with the techniques being used you would expect the Government at least try and do something.

Television New Zealand reported on the issue recently.

Conservation Minister Nick Smith says it’s a blow to the prevention programme and that to date it was presumed that the Coromandel forest was free of the disease.

“We have made bids for additional funding in the budget,” he says.

“Those budget decisions are yet to be determined but I’m absolutely confident along with the Minister for Primary Industries that the Government will be stepping up its endeavours to stop Kauri die back ruining these very precious iconic trees.”

The Herald also reported on Smith’s comments.  Referring to the Keep Kauri Standing programme Smith is reported as follows:

“This programme, set up in 2009, was initially established through to June 2014,” Dr Smith said.

It was reviewed last year and we were planning a ramping-up of this work in the next financial year prior to this discovery.

This work will now need to be brought forward with urgency.”

Smith is being cute with the facts in the extreme, within a couple of hairs breaths of telling a lie.  It was his Government that decided to no longer fund research and he is now saying that his department is seeking “additional funding” for prevention and they were “planning a ramping-up of this work”.

The reality is that National is willing to let Kauri face extinction.  It will be a major local issue for the Helensville electorate this year the local Member of Parliament, one John Phillip Key, has better be ready to explain why this Government has been prepared to do nothing.

34 comments on “The extinction of Kauri”

  1. Ad 1

    Really glad you did this post. Around my area there is massive death.

    The trees Colin McCahon painted in the 1950s and made famous around his French Bay house are now either dead or dying. In fact this Sunday there is an open day with some of the original 1950s paintings if anyone is so inclined in the Auckland area.

    There are about 1500 mature New Zealand Kauri left – and even they are in scattered pockets around about six relatively small forests plus Waipoua.

    Twyford has been reasonably good in this space. Would be a great signal to the big conservation activist groups if a joint press conference were held by the Greens and Labour that they will commit to saving every single tree that is left – just as we have done for over fifty years with endangered bird species. That means their own specific protection and treatment programme for every remaining individual that can be recovered.

    Maybe they could re-brand Arbour Day together as Kauri Day and do it straight after Auckland Anniversary Day for those in Auckland and Northland.

    • greywarbler 1.1

      Yes Arbour Day used to be commemorated with us school kids going out and planting pine. The idea was to recognise the importance of trees, and it was chosen to plant a commercial species, now we need that commitment to saving our beautiful indigenuous forst.

    • geoff 1.2

      Never fear! The market will save the mighty Kauri!

  2. One Anonymous Bloke 2

    They poison entire river systems, show little concern about the approaching mass extinction event, why would they give a fuck about Kauri?

    For the publicity. It would look bad if they did nothing.

  3. cricklewood 3

    The difficulty will be providing mass treatment. Phytophera has been a problem in the nursery industry for years with a lot of money spent and no cure found only management techniques. Phosphoric acid is really effective but needs to be administered with regularity either injected or as a root drench. Trichoderma and Baccilus also provide some control but again regular dosing is required to keep the populations of benifical bacteria high enough to work. In terms of ease you could drop trichoderma pellets from the air.
    I have seen Phytophera in Kauri in nursery settings and is controlled by running phosphoric acid through the irrigation the particular strain has either gone wild quite possibly from well meaning re vegetation projects planting infected stock or its always been there and something has upset the balance of soil fungi. I do wonder if the breakdown of 1080 into the soil is having an unforeseen effect.

  4. You’d think the political parties could agree on this, vote the money, and work bloody hard to save the kauri. That they don’t sickens me and makes me angry.

  5. RedBaronCV 5

    If we need a couple of mill then I know where to find it.

    As the Basin reserve flyover hearing winds into the umpteen day it is clear, even to the uninvolved like me, that the $90m spend isn’t an investment of tax and ratepayer money in anything related to carefully costed transport projects just an investment in someone’s ego.

    Even after a few mill for the Kauri’s there will be pleanty left over.

  6. Populuxe1 6

    I think you are badly misrepresenting Nick Smith – he’s actually always struck me as doing the best he can for his environment portfolio given his own party either doesn’t care or actively tries to undermine it. Any positive work he gets through is undone higher up the National food chain.

    • RedLogix 6.1

      Yes I agree. Nick Smith has always been a bit on an enigma for me.

      On one hand he’s usually been well informed and passionate about conservation and environment issues.

      Yet somehow his political framing and behaviour largely negates any good he achieves.

    • mickysavage 6.2

      I understand the decision to cut funding was made by Nathan Guy and as far as I am aware Nick Smith had nothing to do with this and I agree he may have decided differently. But his spin on the situation was breathtaking.

  7. captain hook 7

    when the trees are gone then the developers can move in and name the subdivsion “Kauri Grove”.

  8. jaymam 8

    Why not plant some disease-free kauri seedlings inside all the predator-proof enclosures, and put a little fence around them to keep humans away? Kauri grow quite fast out in the open.

    • One Anonymous Bloke 8.1

      Is that supposed to be some sort of comforting thought?

    • weka 8.2

      sounds good to me. Better yet, fence off existing forest that is free of the disease.

      • jaymam 8.2.1

        The fence needs to be pig-proof. I also suspect that humans are spreading the disease by inspecting trees.

      • cricklewood 8.2.2

        Doubt it would work, birds will transmit phytopheras as well… Its also possible the Phytophera has always been there and is becoming prevalent for some other reason.
        For example phytoplasma has become far more prevelant in Flax destroying large areas due to an introduced vector (passion vine hopper)and again is uncurable.
        There will be no eradicating it for all the will in the world bit like dutch elm. Treatment will save some trees but once you start you cant stop

        • James Thrace 8.2.2.1

          1500 mature Kauri left says the reason beautifully for why the disease is spreading more prevalently now.

          No herd immunity.

          • cricklewood 8.2.2.1.1

            Doesn’t really work like that. Most Phytopheras are host specific or host to a select number of genus. It pretty indiscriminate and tends to destroy whole crops think Potato famine. Ive seen destroy large plantings as it moves downhill in the ground water.
            One thing I can say with surety is that it presents initially in poorly drained soils where it is able to out compete other more beneficial organisms.
            Something has changed in the environment either the Phytophera has changed or something is materially changed in the soil microbia in the forest upsetting the balance. Leasing to mass critical infection.

    • BM 8.3

      I remember seeing a TV show quite a while a go and there was this old guy on it who shared his knowledge in growing Kauri.

      According to him the key to growing Kauri is to not burying them in the ground when planting but instead just covering the root ball with compost and then staking.

      Apparently you could get up to a meter per year in growth.

  9. Richard Christie 9

    Should they perish the demise of the both the Maui Dolphin and Kauri should be pinned
    on the National Party.

    It should be made to become a permanent part of their baggage, henceforth.

  10. greywarbler 10

    Bugger National’s baggage. just stop it happening. Disease free or resistant seedlings, there is a case for genetic modification here. Technology might save it if allowed.

    • Richard Christie 10.1

      I sympathise but the reality is that it IS happening and you aren’t the only one singing “stop it” .

      The Maui is on the utter brink of oblivion. Only the Govt can set up and enforce the last ditch marine sanctuaries that researchers recommend.

      The current Govt. willfully refuses to go the whole hog and instead offers half measures, essentially gambling that if they lose the bet, well then, memory is short no real shit will stick to them in the long term.

      Fear of being forever branded as facilitating the extermination of a species when well warned of the danger and the available countermeasures might motivate them toward “just stop[ping] it happening”.

      • Populuxe1 10.1.1

        Maui are not a good example, if only because the extent of the proposed sanctuaries would be devistating to many coastal communities that rely on fisheries as well. Most of the South Island would be off limits.

  11. Murray Olsen 11

    I hope someone figures out a way to save the kauri. I could say a few things, but I’m not a specialist, and they’ve probably been thought of already. Therefore the answer has to be in funding the appropriate people before it’s too late.

  12. One hundred years ago a few enlightened people decided that culling the kauri was a bad move, and that the day would come when future generations of New Zealanders would never see a giant kauri. Fortunately, many trees over one thousand years old were saved, so that now we New Zealanders and thousands of tourists from overseas can see Tane Mahuta and other great kauri trees in their natural habitat, but now we have gone full circle. With the decision not to renew funding for research into Phytophthera Taxon Agathis, or kauri dieback disease, the Government may have condemned Agathis australis to the history books. If these huge trees die out, we will have lost a national icon, a tourist attraction and an irreplaceable New Zealander. If later it is decided that this decision was a wrong one, because the giants have died, any young trees will take a thousand plus years to grow to a size that the renewed research could save for the future. Generations of young New Zealanders would never know the majesty of Tane Mahuta and its like. It is imperative that funding for research be continued for this national icon and tourism dollar earner, and for future generations of young New Zealanders. Dennis Scoles

    • greywarbler 12.1

      +100
      Dennis – you make a good case for us to do something. What has Labour said about it I wonder? The Greens would be right up there backing up research I think. I heard on the radio Maori were wondering what their stance would be. The local people were thinking that tourists should be banned. But if pigs are also responsible they’re not so easy to get rid of, and besides they are a food resource.

      It’s another reason why we need to keep fighting for electoral change this year. Who knows what else we will lose out back of the audience watching the Punch and Judy Show with obligatory Policeman and baton? Taonga of all types never to be recovered. Ever.

  13. tricledrown 13

    The Kauri is a symbol of the death of democracy and equality the loss of our egalitarian society .
    Neo liberalization has fucked this country over .

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