Pressure is mounting on Auckland Council to close the Waitakere Ranges to help fight kauri dieback disease.
On Saturday the local iwi placed a rāhui on the area, saying a complete ban is needed to carry out remedial work and to prevent the forest becoming extinct.
A rāhui is a prohibition against certain activities of areas typically used temporarily to protect a resource.
“Today was really about Te Kawerau Maki putting the rāhui down as mana whenua,” says Edward Ashby, Te Kawerau iwi executive manager. “They’re kaitiaki, so they have a sacred obligation to protect the environment.”
The spread of kauri dieback has more than doubled in the past five years, with 19 percent of kauri now infected.
“We all have to stop going into the forest and we all have to help it heal, because if we don’t our kauri are going to die and they’re going to take the rest of the forest with them,” says environmental scientist Mels Barton.
Kauri dieback eats into the roots of the tree, stripping the canopy and causing bark to waste away.
Ms Barton says the forest is at a tipping point and Auckland Council needs to act now before it’s too late.
“They need to back up the rāhui with a controlled-area notice, and they need to close the forest and they need to make sure people don’t go in there.”
The council is unwilling to go that far and says its preferred option is targeted closures of high-risk areas.
But Mr Ashby is encouraging people to respect the rāhui in place.
“It’s a pretty simple message to Aucklanders. This is a big forest; it takes a whole city to protect a forest this size and we can’t do it by ourselves, so the message is pretty simple.
“Please respect the rāhui.”
Auckland Council will meet next week to decide what action to take.