Friends of Okura Bush (FOOB) are concerned that the planned upgrade of the walkway by the Department of Conservation (DOC) will be detrimental to the health of the Okura Bush Scenic Reserve. Furthermore, the same engineering is to be applied to all track upgrades across New Zealand and is likely to lead to long-term damage to forests across the country.
Since the appalling upgrade of the track by DOC’s contractors in 2011 when an injunction was issued to the Minister to halt work; we have been very concerned about the state that the walkway has been left in. Significant trees have died and many are left stressed and dying.
For the last 3 years we (FOOB) have been advocating for a higher standard of track through the forest to improve the health of the forest floor. This need has increased with the sharp increase in foot traffic. 35,000 walkers and runners per annum when our group began working in the Forest in 2013 and up to 70,000 p.a. now. The state of the 2011 ‘upgrade’ was so poor, that it is now degrading the integrity of the whole forest. Already canopy gaps in pre European forest stands are appearing where track damaged trees have died.
We have offered to fundraise to get the track board-walked, but have been fobbed off time and again; with various delaying tactics, such as not being provided with the correct paperwork, waiting for DOC to consult with other stakeholders, etc.
We have been a patient community, waiting for DOC’s internal turmoil to settle. DOC’s total disregard of their own policy of community consultation has now floored us. We’ve been led to believe that we are part of the process but actually have not been allowed any input into the design and planning stage. We have been repeatedly told that meeting with the Project Engineer was not feasible and now the track upgrade is out for tender and has been rushed through. Does DOC not understand what community consultation is, and how vital it can be to successful planning outcomes? At Okura Bush another failed outcome now will produce decades of future costs and heritage losses.
We object to the method by which DOC has proposed to upgrade the track, which we firmly believe will be detrimental to the health of all trees, including those affected by kauri dieback. It is a short-term answer to the problem of an overused track running through fragile forest, and it will create an irreversible problem as the roots of adjacent trees inevitably become part of the plastic and gravel Geoweb system they propose to install. Part of the current plan involves severe disturbance to the existing trees in order to remove the present degraded track base. It is a necessary step. However, the present parlous state of the track should not be worsened by placing another disastrous solution above it.
We agree with DOC that boardwalk is best practice. However, their plan proposes minimal boardwalk of only 35 meters, and Geoweb for the rest. We do not think that Geoweb (a honeycombed plastic laminate filled with bark and aggregate (gravel)) is not the gold standard for this, nor any other track. Geoweb is unproven and risks compounding today’s problems into the future, whereas we have decades of proof that boardwalks protect healthy forests.
Closing the track will protect the forest, but this carries with it other problems such as having to dismantle the access bridge. A boardwalk, on the other hand, if placed in a timely fashion, is the only answer in our opinion, and we have never varied from this stance in the three years of FOOB’s existence.
Our success in sharply reducing the pest damage to birdlife in the bush, our weeding programs, our monitoring of the birdlife, our work to engage the local community and our constant consultation with DOC and Council, should give us the right to have an opinion and to be respected partners in plans for the track and the health of the forest. Instead we have encountered constant obstruction. This is a setback, but will not dent our enthusiasm to fight for the Okura Bush Scenic Reserve to be intact and one of Auckland’s treasures when our grandchildren are ready to enjoy it.
The alternative is many more dead trees, some of them hundreds of years old, along the route of the track. Our monitoring of the damage thus far proves that this will happen sooner rather than later.
We call on the Department and the Minister to halt the tendering process until we have an acceptable work proposals in place. For the future of our forest and the confidence of the community it is vital that the current proposal does not proceed until key issues have been resolved and a consensus reached on solutions to protect our forest.
Lezette Reid, Chairperson – Friends of Okura Bush Ph 021 872222 firstname.lastname@example.org .