Te Kawerau ā Maki to launch Treaty claim over Govt's 'failure' to combat kauri dieback

An Auckland iwi is planning to launch a new Treaty claim over the Government's "failure" to stop the spread of kauri dieback.

Te Kawerau ā Maki has been at the forefront of the battle to contain the disease over the past decade. The iwi placed a protective rāhui on the entire forested area of the Waitākere Ranges last December.

But Te Kawerau is about to begin proceedings in the Waitangi Tribunal, alleging the Crown has failed to protect taonga kauri, and by extension, the iwi.

"Waitākere Forest is very strongly linked to the well-being and identity of Te Kawerau ā Maki so if this forest goes everything about Te Kawerau goes with it," says executive manager Edward Ashby.

In 2015, the iwi settled its Treaty claim for grievances prior to 1992. As part of that settlement, the Crown committed to a "new relationship" based on "mutual trust, co-operation and respect for the Treaty of Waitangi and its principles".

Mr Ashby told Newshub Nation this hasn't happened.

"We have stressed our lack of trust in the Crown process to date, including our lack of engagement, and a desire to form a one-to-one relationship as we are supposed to have under our Settlement Act," he says.

"We have also notified the Crown formally of our in-principle decision to issue proceedings in the Waitangi Tribunal for failure to protect taonga kauri, failure to protect Te Kawerau ā Maki, and failure to engage with Te Kawerau ā Maki."

Te Kawerau ā Maki wants all kauri forests in its rohe to be closed, with enforcement measures put in place.

It also wants a Waitākere Ranges Heritage Area Governance Forum established to urgently design and implement a kauri dieback action plan.

At a national level, the iwi wants a Policy Statement for Forest Health created in partnership with mana whenua, as well as more funding for research and track upgrades.

"I can't solve the country's problems, I can't solve the last 10 years of inaction, but we want to focus on getting it right here," says Mr Ashby.

"We really need the community to work with us to protect something that we all equally value - this isn't just about Te Kawerau, it's about all of us together."

When contacted earlier this week, Minister for Māori-Crown Relations Kelvin Davis refused to comment.

However, since being informed that Newshub Nation was running this story, a spokesperson for Minister Davis said Biosecurity Minister Damien O'Connor and Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage will be meeting with Te Kawerau ā Maki in the next few weeks.

The spokesperson said Ministers' O'Connor and Sage "know they are able to seek [Minister Davis'] advice if needed".

Kauri dieback was first recognised as a threat in 2008. It is a microscopic type of mould that mainly travels in the soil on peoples shoes.

When it gets wet the spores germinate and are able to swim through the soil looking for kauri roots. It then spreads through the tree's tissues stopping water and nutrients from reaching the canopy, causing the kauri to perish.

The number of infected kauri in the Waitākere Ranges doubled in the five years between 2011 and 2016, from one-in-10 trees to one-in-five.

Te Kawerau ā Maki to launch Treaty claim over Govt's 'failure' to combat kauri dieback
Photo credit: Newshub Nation.

This prompted the rāhui, which was later followed by Auckland Council implementing a Controlled Area Notice (CAN) on both the Waitākere and Hūnua Ranges in May.

The CAN doesn't block people from entering the forests, but requires that no soil is moved into the area - for example on shoes.

However, compliance is patchy - except when an enforcement officer is on patrol - and so the council is working with the Ministry for Primary Industries on new infringement legislation.

"If we were able to fine people for not following the Controlled Area Notice that would be a much quicker, easier and probably more effective way of managing that compliance," says Phil Brown, Auckland Council biosecurity manager.

However, the Tree Council says man-power is the answer.

"They need to be staffing the cleaning stations… and closing car parks at the entrances to these tracks. That is the most effective way to stop people entering the forest and spreading this disease," says spokesperson Mels Barton.

A targeted rate for the environment was also introduced by Auckland Council in May. It will help provide $111.9 million over the next decade to combat Kauri dieback.

"We'll see things like boardwalks in areas that are particularly close to kauri trees, sometimes it will mean rerouting a track away from the kauri trees and in other areas we'll have much better surfacing so you can't move that mud," says Mr Brown.

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