GO Week | Looking after Kauri while Getting Outdoors

Written by Pest Free Kaipātiki

Aotearoa’s forests face a number of challenges and threats, from invasive species, to shifting environmental conditions and the arrival of new pathogens. While many of us are well-versed in taking on pest plants and animals, pathogens are in many ways more stealthy and challenging to combat; trapping a possum certainly seems more doable than stopping a microbe!

Those living in the upper half of the North Island (and hopefully those further south) are probably aware of the risk kauri dieback poses to our forest ecosystems. Fortunately, there are some simple and highly effective actions you can take to help protect these special trees and the forests they support when you get outdoors this summer.

What is kauri dieback?

Kauri dieback is caused by a microscopic organism called an ‘oomycete’ (think of a fungus), with spores that move in soil. The name of this particular oomycete is Phytophthora agathidicida, but you can just call it kauri dieback! This organism infects the roots of kauri and then proceeds to grow into the lower trunk of the tree; by doing this, the movement of water and nutrients through the tree is slowed. Eventually the tree will begin to show symptoms of the disease, including ‘bleeding’ of its resin, leaf thinning, branch death, and reduced canopy. There is not yet any cure for kauri dieback, and all infected trees are at risk of severe disease and potential death.

What YOU can do to protect kauri

Kauri dieback is now found throughout the geographic range of kauri trees, including areas we love to visit. Because of the risk of spreading the disease in soil, many at-risk areas have been closed to visitors. However, with track upgrades designed to minimise this risk, some of these spaces are opening up to visitors once again. While this is great news for those of us who love getting out in kauri forest, we still have a responsibility to look after these trees.

When visiting an area with kauri, there are three simple things you can do to look after these precious trees:

1. Clean your shoes before and after your walk

There is a real risk that the disease can be carried in dirt on our shoes, so giving them a clean is a key way to protect kauri. You can do this at home before and after your walk (ensuring the dirty water is drained so it can be treated), or you can use cleaning stations where they are provided. If you use other tools that contact the soil, such as walking poles, be sure to clean these, too.

Sterigene disinfectant is also provided at cleaning stations, but don’t worry if you don’t have access to this at home, scrubbing alone is highly effective if done thoroughly.

2. Stick to the tracks

It is particularly important to stick to formed tracks when exploring in areas with kauri. Many tracks have been upgraded to help keep our feet away from the soil, so make use of these to reduce the chance of picking up kauri dieback spores and spreading them within (or outside!) the forest.

3. Clean paws and keep your dog on the track

If your dog likes to join you in the bush, think about how they might also risk moving kauri dieback. If you know they like to wander, or maybe don’t have the best recall, consider keeping them on the leash. Either way, do your best to keep them on the track, and clean their paws, because paws can carry spores too!

These three simple actions go a long way towards protecting kauri, a fascinating and precious tree that would be devastating to lose. The final, and possibly most impactful action you can take, is educating your friends and whānau about kauri dieback and how they can look after the forest by cleaning their shoes and dogs’ paws, and staying on track.

For more information on kauri dieback, visit Keep Kauri Standing.

If you live in the Auckland region, you can find a map of open and closed tracks here.

To find out about the work we do at Pest Free Kaipātiki, check out our website, Instagram, or Facebook.

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