by Steffan Browning
Kauri dieback disease (Phytopthorataxon Agathis or PTA) needs a solution but this Government isn’t providing it. The relentless killer of our iconic kauri is not waiting and the group tasked with tackling PTA, is lacking a $5 million government commitment to achieve a breakthrough. The famous giant kauri, Tāne Mahuta, and the kauri forests deserve far better.
This week the Auckland and Northland Council representatives of the PTA Joint Agency gave a multi-party briefing, following meeting Biosecurity (MPI) Minister Nathan Guy. It seems that National and MPI are effectively giving up on yet another biosecurity disaster. The bee mite varroa is well established, didymo is in too many rivers, psyllid is moving through potatoes and tomato crops, PSA in kiwifruit, Mediterranean fan worm is moving beyond Auckland and Lyttleton harbours, and now the Government appears to be throwing in the towel on kauri dieback.
More must be done to prevent entry of new pests and disease, better contain those already here, and find long term solutions for their impacts.
The Minister has been reported saying, “the best scientific evidence we have is that eradication is not possible because of its widespread nature, and there is no known cure. Our focus now is on slowing its spread and protecting our remaining disease-free forests while research continues.”
From my horticultural experience, I understand the problems with phytopthora contagions and have some sympathy for the Minister’s view. However, the small amount of research continuing is unlikely to make the breakthrough required to preserve even some of our kauri forests for later generations.
For this cultural taonga and icon of Northland tourism, the mainstay of forests where it is the dominant species, we must push much harder for a scientific breakthrough.
The research needs to be lifted by significant funding for the logical specialist provider, the government’s own forest research institute (Scion). Scion has expertise that should be focused on this issue, and the PTA Joint Agency of four regional councils, Department of Conservation, MPI and northern iwi need to be able to access that expertise and associated technology.
Kauri dieback is an example of continued biosecurity failures in New Zealand, but also a failure of how science is funded and directed. The commercial model for science and Crown Research Institutes (CRI) means that the Minister will not be directing Scion to get stuck into this problem of national significance. This leaves the PTA Joint Agency having to come to Wellington to beg for continued funding to pay Scion, so Scion can meet the Government’s expectation of a financial dividend from CRIs. The Minister will be hoping that the councils and iwi stump up the cash to feed it dividends, and seems prepared to let an icon die along the way.
It seems a contradiction, that today the Minister announced 30 new positions to help with biosecurity border protection, yet seems willing to throw his hands in the air as Tāne Mahuta and our iconic kauri forests die.
With affected trees as close as 60 metres from the famous Tāne Mahuta in the Waipoua Forest, and thousands of trees dying elsewhere, it is time for the Minister to have a change of heart and make a positive change to this year’s budget by funding the $5 million over 5 years needed to continue finding the breakthrough that we all want.