Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The Saga of Kauri Dieback Disease and the Wild Turkey.

Up late again, and this time because something has really got up my nose. The Wild Turkey Offroad Half Marathon, a great little event on Aucklands West Coast has been demasculated by the Auckland Regional Council (ARC). My interest was sparked by a discussion on the sportzhub forum here

The Wild Turkey proper starts on the beach at Whatipu where competitors line up against a back drop of the wild Manakau Entrance and the rugged coastline of Awhitu receding into the distance. It runs first 7km's along the coast, with competitors often choosing the harder running in the first cut of the receding waves than on the soft shuffling sand. Competitors leave the ocean heading for the prominent gap in the hills signalling the mouth of Paraha stream. The coastal dunes are crossed quickly on established trails as this is a popular loop from the famous Karekare, once home to a piano. Up a trail until the river narrows into a canyon and the track gives way to stream bed and boulders. Opportunity arises for a whole different breed of athlete, those that excell on rough terrain. The canyon peaks with swims and rope assisted climbs up slippery conglomerate slopes. Confusion at the top as bush replaces the rocky walls and competitors search for the Odlin Timber Track which they climb back to the network or trails north of Whatipu and eventually down to the welcome finish line.

James Bradshaw heading into the Paraha gorge

Following a special meeting of the Parks and Heritage Committee of the Auckland Regional Council the decision was made forbidding the Wild Turkey from racing on either the beach or the river. A decision which effectively turns the Wild Turkey from a unique and "wild" offroad race journeying through and showcasing the varying habitats of the Waitakeres from the coast to mountains and return, to a ho-hum bush run. The equivalent would be replacing the mountain run and kayaking legs of the Coast to Coast with a run and bike over Arthurs and Porters Pass. This has been tryed and it wasn't very successful. The organisers are "gutted", especially after paying "for photo monitoring on the course for three years and each year have received an "all good and no lasting impact on the environment noted" report." (the effectiveness of photo monitoring in this context is open to debate anyway).

Penny scrambling up the conglomerate

The Council subsequently released their reasoning of their decision,

"The main reasons for these changes in this years course, and for future year events in this area, are because of the Kauri dieback disease; the Waitakere Ranges has been identified as a main area in the North Island where this disease occurs. The new course, along with some environmental conditions which the organisers and competitors will have to work with on the day of the running event, are all ways in which we are attempting to combat the spread of this disease (especially in the section which previously ran through the Pararaha Valley), and which will help to protect the unique environment of the Whatipu area and Waitakere Ranges. Similarly, the decision to remove the coastal section of the race is in recognition of the Scientific Reserve status of the Whatipu coastal area, and the unique ecological values that exist in there."

I wanna keep dry!

Instinctively angry I decided to investigate to see whether it was their decision-making or my prejudice that was causing the problem inside my head.

First of all I investigated the Kauri Dieback Disease. The lead page of a multi-agency campaign against the disease is Kauri Dieback disease, how you can help. Kauri Dieback disease or Phytophthora taxon Agathis (PTA) is a microscopic fungus-like plant pathogen. I looked up Phytophthora on Wikipedia and it makes interesting reading. Firstly its not really a fungi, but from a differnt kingdom altogether (although apparently fungicide is effective for prevention), secondly they have played their part in history, the Irish Potato Famine was caused by an organism called Phytophthora infestans.

Take the wrong turn on the Paraha and you end up in the gorgeous Cowan stream!

Then I remembered a trip to Tasmania as a teenager for orienteering, coached ironically by Shaun Collins and Phil Wood, the key organisers of the Wild Turkey. Before and after one event we were made to dip our shoes in a fungicide to prevent the spead of "root rot". I did a quick search and as I suspected this is also a species of phytophthora, otherwise known as cinnamon fungus. There is further information here and a management plan here if you are a sucker for punishment. This disease is a horrible problem in Australia, affecting an array of species. I thought it would be interesting to compare management techniques.

The Australian management system suggests:

1) Staying on marked tracks and obeying track closures in infested areas

2) Use boot washing stations where provided (for example, in the Arthur Ranges in Tasmania) to prevent the ingress of spores.

3) Upon leaving an infested area, carefully washing your boots to remove any soil. An effective way to do this is to carry a small spray bottle of methylated spirits and a brush for this purpose, and

4) Carefully washing equipment such as pegs, trekking poles, and groundsheets which may have come into contact with infected soil.

The corresponding ARC instructions are:

1) Make sure shoes, tyres and equipment are clean of dirt before and after visiting kauri forest

2) Clean shoes and any other equipment that comes into contact with soil after every visit, especially if moving between bush areas

3) Keep to defined park tracks at all times. Any movement of soil around the roots of a tree has the potential to spread the disease

4) Keep your dog on a leash at all times. Dogs can inadvertently spread the disease if they disturb the soil around the trees

Its an interesting comparison. Nowhere does ARC mention the possibility of washing gear using a cleaning substance. In fact the website is very lightweight, offering very little in explanation or substance, ie what monitoring or research is being done, when or by who, what progress has their been? The obvious questions arise, what protocols have been put in place to manage the potential effect or ARC workers, feral animals and independent recreationalists. What education inititiatives are been undertaken near the major road ends like Piha, Huia and Cascades where the disease is most prevalent (or at least the most identfied.

James Bradshaw high above Whatipiu

Reading wider I found some of these answers on a local piha website:

Spread of the disease requires a vector agent. In the case of PTA this could be by feral pigs, recreational visitors, researchers, tourism, film or sporting concessionaires, volunteer pest control programmes, or ARC staff and contractors.

The ARC plans to increase funding and efforts to kill feral pigs which have been on the increase and has commited $90,000 for each of the next two years to carry out further research, including surveys to establish just how widespread the disease is.

For all human vectors, new practices need to be adopted to try and halt the spread. Spread is more likely in wet weather when tracks are boggy. Going from stream bank into water, and vice versa is another particular threat.

It's great this is happening but I would like to know more, will wild pigs be eradicated from the Waitakeres because of the threat they now pose...if any animal is likely to spread fungi between roots systems of trees the pig has to be a prime candidate and I would like to know the protocols that have been put in place for ARC staff and volunteers involved in off-track management in the Waitaks. Protectors are so often the wreckers.

The last comment also caught my eye, "Going from stream bank into water, and vice versa is another particular threat", really, why? At this stage I checked the author...ahhh Sandra Coney, ARC councillor. What is someone with decision making powers doing going around and making bald unjustified statements like that? Sure water may aid germination, but sufficent water, like that found in the Paraha may also wash a shoe. Muddy brackish water linked with root systems (like found on all Waitakeres tracks) would surely create more danger than a fast flowing rocky watercourse? So I went back to the council reasoning...

Preliminary point, if they want to adopt a "precautionary approach" thats fine with me, but it has to be consistent. The use of the Paraha Stream has been disallowed because of the policy of encouraging formed track use, and possibly judging by the Piha website the extra danger percieved by some of entering and re-entering streams. This doesn't seem reasonable. The only reason the Paraha isn't a formed track is the terrain, it still gets as many, if not more, foot traffic than other tracks in the Waitakeres. To my knowledge nothing is being done to prevent other users using the Paraha, which I would expect to happen if there really was a particular risk. Additionally there seems to be an inequal application of the precautionary principle bewtween the Wild Turkey and other users in the rest of the park, including users in areas where the Kauri Dieback is well established, the latter do not seem to have any restrictions on their activities.

My last two points on this would be, to echo Fiona McBrydes point on Sportzhub, that a great educational opportunity has been missed and also I would suggest that the rejigged course which links Whatipu with wider areas, passing closer both to the summit road and the Huia catchment may well provide more opportunity for spreading the disease than the original course. This will be especially so if the day, and the tracks are wet.

Ok, so all I have left to briefly touch on is the exclusion from Whatipu Beach because of, "the Scientific Reserve status of the Whatipu coastal area, and the unique ecological values that exist in there". Now just guessing, but its likely that their jurisdiction here only applys to above the high tide line, the race starts below high tide and remains so for 7km. It is only the brief section from the ocean to the formed track heading up Paraha stream that this decision is probably relevant for. I would really like even some qualitative analysis of the disturbance of ecological values through this section. The decision reeks of prejudiced protectionism.

To give some background, its not that long since the new management plan for the Waitakeres became operative The new aspect of the plan is to place limits on organized sporting activities at 6 specific locations which are particularly sensitive ecologically and/or under pressure from visitors – Anawhata, Pararaha, Glen Esk, North Piha, Whatipu and Karekare.

The numbers set in these limits allow for all existing organized sporting activities. The ARC will work with sports organisers to identify other locations in the Waitakeres and other parkland where further events can occur. The Waitakere parkland is 17000 ha and there are 278 kms of track so there is room for events to be spread through the park, rather than clustered at particular locations.

Filming, education groups and community gatherings will not be subjected to these limits but the ARC will work with groups such as filming to set protocols and work towards accreditation. In 2002 the status of Whatipu sand accretion was changed to that of a Scientific Reserve. The purpose of the scientific reserve is for study and education about this unique area, which is home to threatened and endangered plants and birds. The Plan discourages activities that would be inconsistent with this purpose, but the ARC will work with providers to find alternative routes for their activities."

The plan was controversial at the time and I think remains so. It fails to recognise the legitimate recreational choice of those who choose to participate in organised events. It makes them 2nd class citizens to "education groups and community gatherings", both of which they may otherwise share many characteristics with. The comment that the ARC will work with event organisers to find more suitable areas in the Waitaks for events is creepy. We don't want people outside our sport deciding what areas may be suitable, we want the best, most beautiful areas to enjoy our weekends in. I think I'll have to conclude that I am prejudiced against ARC, but they are also prejudiced against us. The brief written justifications seem like a kill joy, cynical attempt to do something they have been meaning to for a while...


marcusd said...

Jamie - fantastic post. It encapsulates exactly what I have been thinking on this issue but have been to annoyed to actually put it into words.

ARC sounds like many other government authorities in New Zealand both central and local government. Yeah, let's work together to do this blah blah blah when the reality is completely the opposite.

Unfortunately I dont see government authorities changing any time soon and recognising the contribution events bring to introducing the public to different areas of New Zealand. There seems to be a big block which doesnt want events on at all. If they were actually honest about it and said up front we dont want events on then fine I could accept that but to wrap it up in more PC language is disingenuous.

Anyway, you know my thoughts on this and they are closely aligned with yours. The future for events in New Zealand, unless you are established already, is developing partnerships with private land owners who are keen to work with you. I have started doing this in the Bay of Plenty with some really exciting results so far. Phil Wood will tell you the same.

Talk more on this when I see you next.


BlackSands said...

Please contact me on info@pihabeach.co.nz I would like to discuss your article off-line. Bobbie

Jamie said...

Hey Marcus,

yeah its a hard one aye. I'm really trying hard to open my mind to see the view of those acting against commercial events, because I know I may be seen to be biased in favour.

there just seems to be huge gaps in the reasoning and application of the logic...at least that has been disclosed publically.

i think as New Zealanders with the right to enjoy our outdoors as we choose, we deserve a better explanation than the one given.

Jamie said...

Hey Black Sands,

Sure always open to discussion, and you may well know a lot more about this than me. I would prefer if the discussion remained on line so more could benefit, but I will give you an email.


BlackSands said...

Hi Jamie, You can read quite a bit about the goings on with Councils and controls through my forum Village Voice here:
It's interestng that these people are ELECTED to represent us but do they? I love Waitakere, as do many, but some controls are way over the top. You can read about the Cafe in Piha saga here too. Sandra Coney, Chair of Parks and Heritage is also Chair of Protect Piha Heritage who took WCC & ARC to the Environment Court to stop one little Cafe in Piha for the 800+ permanent residents of Piha not to mention all the bach owners and thousands of visitors each week during summer. Read also the Village Voice prior to 2008 and you may like to go to the Cafe blog. Cheers

Jamie said...

Hey Bobbie,

My sympathies, some people confuse maintaining their lifestyle and preferences as environmental protection.

Quite how a cafe would be negative for Piha I just don't get. A place for the community, a place for artists and a place for those of us visiting who aren't lucky enough to have a bach there.

Take care


Nick said...

Jamie, you're on fire bro. Well done, and thanks for committing your time and energy to bring us this analysis. Excellent work.

As I've mentioned to you, I'm only too happy to play my part in protecting the Kauri. But, as you point out, whats the point if trail runners and rogainers are the only groups required to cease activity? I would expect to see all park users/workers subject to the same controls. Alas, your research suggests that ARC have seized upon the "disease" as a convenient excuse to prohibit activity that they find distasteful.

I will write to ARC and ACC to voice my concerns and request information on what other steps are being taken to combat the spread of the phytothingy. We deserve a better explanation.

Jamie said...

Good on you Nick, go hard.

The ironic thing is that this conflict is "green" vs "green"...just one "green" is not so respectful of the choices of others.

I suspect that the reasoning behind their policy/decisions is paper thin. A green facade .